This week, I had a conversation with one of my friends who comes from Poland, speaks perfect English and was telling me about how they take a French lesson a week, just for fun. This makes me feel fairly ashamed to admit that the only language I can speak is English. It’s not a new source of shame, I get all in a flap when I’m abroad and someone doesn’t speak English. What if they don’t understand my pointing and miming, what if the 5 phrases I repeat don’t get me by?! I need to get a grip, this is embarrassing. But why don’t I speak more languages?
I took a GCSE in German, but I couldn’t have any sort of conversation in it, unless there’s any pressing need for a German person to know I went on holiday to Canada last year (that was the first line of my verbal exam and should actually now be ‘I went on holiday to Canada 12 years ago’. Useful). I always had at the back of my mind that I was rubbish at languages, so I didn’t think there was much point trying that hard. I also don’t remember there being much focus on language at school. I don’t think I’m alone. In general, my British friends speak dramatically fewer languages than those who’ve grown up abroad where practicing a second (third, fourth…?) language is the norm.
Good news for British kids is that from September this year, it’s going to be compulsory for all UK primary school children over 7 to learn another language. Another good bit of news is that I’d always thought it was easier to learn new languages when you’re a child, but, pickthebrain.com claims that all I need is a “child’s willingness to experiment and desire to communicate, without the fear of ridicule”. Ridicule is probably the main thing that intimidates me, what if they don’t understand me and I have to repeat the same mispronounced phrase over and over and OVER AGAIN. But, maybe I should stop focusing on the ridicule part and pay attention to the fact that all I actually need to do is try harder. And actually go to a French class.