Ab Initio and the Year Abroad
Why did you decide to take up a language ab initio?
It was two years ago (although it seems like two minutes ago!) that I started my studies at the University of Leicester. During my A-Levels I had considered a number of courses to take, all including French, which I studied at A-level. I didn’t immediately consider another language, looking instead at French and History or Politics courses. However I eventually decided I would take up another language as a complete beginner, and how happy I am that I did!
My language of choice was Spanish.
How did you find the university classes?
First year lessons were fast moving and fun! It was like being in year seven again, learning how to tell someone your favourite colour and ask for directions. I personally love this stage of language learning, in the beginning your capacity seems to be endless, and your progress is both visible and rapid! It can be especially helpful to already have experience in a similar language. The Latin roots of both mine have helped me a lot, (if in doubt, say the French word in a Spanish accent!) Then again, a completely unrelated language helps equally as it shows you have linguistic capacity. It can even be a true blessing to have no prior language knowledge, there is no chance of getting confused and you can focus on perfecting one!
What are the challenges of learning a language from scratch?
In languages I have attempted since, it is always the “From Zero” stage I enjoy most! We often find that later into perfecting a language, we reach a plateau. The grammar gets more complicated, texts from different sources can seem illegible, and we can find ourselves wrangling with different accents and expressions.
I certainly feel that in the secondary school environment, this plateau can be long and tiresome. After the basics, a few hours a week aren’t sufficient to push past the plateau. (Probably why lots of people can remember a few foreign phrases from their school days but not much more!)
How is learning a language different at University?
Well, that’s where the year abroad comes in!
After two years, you are proficient (the fast paced courses and experienced teachers make sure of this!) but you certainly aren’t fluent. Without the year abroad, you could well amble away for years more never getting noticeably better. Therefore University throws you out of the safe little lifeboat of classrooms and grammar books and into the choppy sea of the country where your language is spoken!
This is why I am currently writing to you from sunny Cholula in Puebla, Mexico where I am studying at a University called Universidad de las Americas Puebla! I have now been here for two weeks and I am loving every moment so far! In terms of my Spanish, this is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. Daunting? Yes, Un poco loco? Also yes.
Some of the friends you meet on your year abroad will have studied since the start of secondary school, but don’t let that put you off, you will soon be chatting away just as well as them!
Would you recommend ab initio learning?
All in all, I cannot recommend taking up a language ab-intio highly enough! Today I have booked a weekend trip to the beach, eaten an obscene amount of tacos, chatted with my new friends from every corner of the world and laughed out loud at photos of our last outing.
It is shocking to think that if I had chosen another subject at University, rather than ab-initio Spanish, I wouldn’t be where I am, having the experiences that I am having today!