Saturday, 17 October 2015

What It's Like to Study a Language at University (+Small Announcement)


Studying languages can be a love/hate relationship. One minute you're obsessed with learning idioms and perfecting your accent, the next you're throwing your dictionaries and grammar books up in the air because you can't remember the conjugations for the subjunctive imperfect. 

You are surrounded by a LOT of semi-bilingual people. Seriously. My only exposure to French before university was a 3 day school art trip to Paris and countless tedious lessons at school, but when I came to uni I found myself in a sea of people who had spent all of their summers since they were ten working as a nanny in France, or they had constant foreign school exchanges, or they'd just returned from a gap yah mentoring underprivileged children in Haiti. This is an over-exaggeration, but you get my drift. I felt so rubbish about my abilities because I hadn't been given the same opportunities as them, but I stuck with it and I'm still going strong, despite my initial massive inferiority complex! (Seriously, if you are one of the aforementioned semi-bilingual students, you are so lucky! But please also be considerate to the less confident aspiring polyglots)

School does NOT prepare you for university. At least, my school didn't. But that could've been because I spent most of my French lessons translating newspapers in the library by myself because my teacher was too lazy to teach me (despite being French himself - go figure). While I knew the basics of what was being covered during first year, university really helped me nail the vague grammar points that had been thrust upon me at school.

English translations of set texts will be your best friend. Because when your lecturers expect you to read and analyse a 250 page 19th century French novel in under a week alongside writing essays and preparing work for other modules, you will need it. So long as you take time to look through the French edition at some point too so you understand the references made during lectures, this will really help you manage your workload. Plus, trying to find free English translations online improves your research skills considerably!

You have a lot less free time than your flatmates. I was told at an open day that the two most demanding subjects to study at my university were medicine and languages. And they weren't wrong. My flatmates in my first year were loving having 10-12 hours of classes each week, while I was working away at 14-16, 6 of which were in another language. The amount of time it takes to process a text in French into how you would say it in English, then write a response to questions in French is far too long for my liking. I feel particularly sorry for my friends who are studying three languages. Just woah.

You get to go on a year abroad. Yes, you can do this with pretty much any degree nowadays. But with languages it's pretty much assumed that you'll spend some time working or studying abroad during your degree. Which means that you gain a valuable life experience as you attempt to master your chosen language, while also learning how to cope on your own in an entirely foreign culture.

The moment where it all clicks into place is a beautiful one. A lot of the time my French lectures make no sense to me and I frantically copy the notes of my much more fluent friends afterwards so I can keep on top of everything, but some days I understand much more than usual. It's like a lightswitch flicks on in my mind, and I just get it. That's a great feeling, and makes the stress of learning a language worth it all.

Do any of you study languages? What are your experiences?

Speak soon!

Chloe x

P.S. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to take a little blogging break for the next two weeks or so. I have a lot of deadlines over the coming weeks so maintaining a five-day-a-week blog isn't quite manageable with my current workload. I'd rather take some time out and come back with better posts than churn out a measly little filler post with not very much content (which I've been doing recently and I'm not loving it!). I hope that's alright with everyone, and I'll see you in November! xxx