Why did you choose your language?
As GCHQ and the Foreign Office call for more Arabic, Chinese and Russian graduates, we ask why did you learn your language?
At the recent APPG on Modern Languages, GCHQ and the Foreign Office emphasised the importance of lesser-taught languages to Britain’s future as a world power. Without more students becoming fluent in Arabic and Chinese, they said, the UK was in real danger of losing its strategic, economic and political place in the world.
The consensus amongst those in attendance was that schools are the key to resolving this issue. According to the language teachers, academics, parliamentarians and government officials in attendance, we need to start kids learning lesser-taught languages as early as possible and get headteachers passionate about language learning and to instil that love in their students.
Although I agree with this sentiment, I couldn’t help but think back over my own experience. At 14 years old, I dropped German and took up Spanish. When it was time to choose my A-level subjects, I decided to pursue Spanish over French, a language I’d been learning since nursery. If learning a language from a young age was all it took to develop a life-long passion, I would never have taken up Spanish at all. And yet, I graduated last July with a degree in English and Spanish, after spending a year living in Madrid.
The big question is, of course, why are we drawn to learning a particular language?
That was the question that I put to our network of students and the responses were really interesting. Amongst the wide variety of reasons for taking up a language, only two students claimed to have been thinking about their career when making their choice, and in both of these students, it was a only a secondary reason.
Instead, students named a wide range of other reasons for choosing a particular language: their exposure to it, a close relationship with a teacher, a personal connection (perhaps a family member comes from a country where that language is spoken), or just because they like the way it sounds.
The majority of students attributed their choice of language to a passion for the culture; whether they have a favourite book or film in that language, an interest in a particular historical period or simply because they’re attracted to the idea of sun, sea and sand!
With such a variety of factors impacting our choice, is it ever possible to ensure that a certain quota of students become fluent in specific languages?
Check out some of the reasons below and let us know why you speak yours!
Lizzie Fane (Founder of GlobalGraduates.com): I could choose between Italian, Spanish and German at school. Each language teacher pitched their language to us in assembly and as soon as the Italian teacher mentioned ‘pizza’ I was sold! Plus, Italian fitted exactly with my love of art.
Florence Robson (Former Editor of GG): Ultimately, I chose Spanish over French at A-level because the teacher was better. However, my love affair with Spanish started long before that, when I discovered at 13 that it was the only language where having a lisp was an advantage!
@TrueCoaster: 'All the countries bordering my Anglophone one, Ghana, speak French. Made me realise English was not enough!
Katie Taylor: 'I picked French because I loved the style and flow of the language, and also loved visiting France. I decided to pick up Spanish too at degree level because I wanted to learn more languages, and Spanish is widely spoken across the world.’
@spookyplacenta: 'Italian because I love Assassin's Creed and I was frustrated at having to use subtitles to understand the dialogue!’
@Kayleigh_1610: 'Honestly? Because it was the one that they taught at my school. Love it though!
@ablazey: 'French: it sounds sexy. Spanish: to sound sexy to French people of course.'
Maddy Ilsley: 'Because tapas and sun and sangria and siesta and fiesta!’
Bethan Mair Williams: 'I picked French because we used to have French students at home when I was younger and I was fascinated because they all spoke so fast, so I thought if I learned it, I would be able to speak quickly too and understand everything. I feel sophisticated and flowy when I speak French. I picked German later on because it sounded similar to Welsh but a lot different to French so I thought I wouldn't get the 2 languages confused. I feel tougher when I speak German.’
Hannah Scott: 'Because Baudelaire’
@azure_oblivion: 'Contrary to popular belief, I find German pretty sexy’
@BSsmoove: 'French because my favourite football players were Thierry Henry and Robert Pires’
@caplanepourmoi: ‘Italian, makes everything sound so much better! It can even make a word as unappealing as 'flop' sound good (fiasco)’
Ross William Smith: ‘I picked French because my teacher told me I wouldn't pass and I wanted to prove him wrong.’
Suzanna Taylor: ‘I chose Spanish because I love the way that it sounds, I am also very interested in the culture of Latin American countries (Mexico in particular) so Spanish allows me to understand that better.’
@THEDUFFELLA: ‘So I can order ice cream mainly Italy’
@lucytaytay: ‘Spanish because I wanna show off when I go on holiday haaaa’
@cusacknick: ‘Being able to read Stefan Effenberg's autobiography aufdeutsch’
Vicky Jones: ‘I didn't pick German, it was just the first language I'd been exposed to other than English, and I loved it!’
@Herr_Kaleun: ‘German - originally cos of the pilots in ww2 flight sims, now for work/holidays. Learning Irish to confuse the English :P’
Lily Morris: ‘I chose to continue German because I really like the logic of the grammar, and I enjoy fitting the different pieces of a sentence together in the right order. I also love German food! It turns out that I'm going to work in insurance after uni, and as there are lots of insurance firms in Germany and Switzerland, that's made it an even easier decision to continue.’
Caitlin Flanagan: ‘French because I love the films and Italian because I love the lifestyle’
Cerys Wakeman: ‘I chose German out of German and French that I did for A-level (from lower levels in school) because I quite enjoyed the case system. I chose to add Russian at uni because I wanted a challenge and it seemed like something totally new’
Sophia Smith Galer: ‘ Someone once said to me 'You can't learn Arabic, you're a woman!' I have learned it for many reasons, but one of those was definitely to prove that idiot wrong…'
Esther Fiona Barrett: ‘I like learning Spanish because it's fun. And I like that it gives me the opportunity to communicate and share in another culture.’
Jordan Bertenshaw: ‘The ladies love an English guy that can speak Dutch ;)’
Acer Entwistle: ‘I was given French at high school as my first foreign language... Then I chose to take up German too because I my teacher was awesome. I continued with both languages up until final year at uni when I decided to do German only. I love the hidden beauty of the German language. .. which you can only really see when you start to use it. After two years on placement in Germany I was definitely hooked!’
Jenny Benson: ‘I picked French because my grandmother used to have a house in France and I was aways fascinated by how romantic the language sounds. Also, the sun in the South is very appealing to a Scottish person!’
James Burt: ‘When I was about 6, I was read a story called "The cat who wanted to go home". It was about a cat from France who unwittingly ended up in England, and voiced her chagrin by persistently mewing "chez moi" (which was translated by the author as "I want to go home"). After being read this story, I found French lessons at school much more interesting, and continued it all the way through to secondary school, GCSE, A level and then as part of my degree. I now live in France.’
@JessieUsaChan: ‘I grew up going to France and fell in love with the language. Then because you can't speak Latin :P’
@StefanoPollard: ‘French and Spanish. Simply because they are beautiful :)’
@funkypige0n: ‘German- due to the history. Prior to '89 it was torn in two but after the reunification it became the economic power of EU!’
@JesseeChester: ‘Spanish because I want to move somewhere that speaks the Spanish language and have the Spanish way of life’
Emma Dilemma Filtness: ‘I chose French because I grew up going to France to visit relatives and it seemed a natural progression to take it at a level to undergraduate level.’
Kristina Freeman: ‘I started Greek ab initio when I began German at uni. I knew I wanted to start another language from scratch, I love Greece and the uni I got into was one of only a couple if not the only one that offered it- so i took the chance!! :)) so glad i did.’
@GINa93: ‘French... For the food. Italian... For the food.’
@emmanatalies: ‘Spanish - beautiful language, amazing food, great people. Also love being able to think in another language!’
@hazzashazza: ‘French for l'amour, la beauté et les garçons français, Spanish for las fiestas y mañana way of life, German for career & to stand out’
Rachel Daw: ‘I chose German because I had an inspiring teacher who fuelled my curiosity for tales of East Berlin and the Stasi... We read a book for A-Level called 'Ich fühl mich so fifty-fifty', with which I had a love/hate relationship, but it did definitely ignite my fascination with that period of history - and therefore the German language. I chose Spanish because I did it at A-Level, was good-ish at it, and thought that two languages would be better than one. I’d like to learn Arabic though, as my grandmother was from Basra, Iraq!’