Reflections, with Sue Tredget

It’s Languages Week, so it seems fitting that this month I should seize the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of language learning and share some of my own my journey with languages.

When I was a little girl, I received a book as a school prize. It was called My Big Book of Geography. I was five. This book was a wonder to me. As I gazed at the colourful pages, I was transported to far flung lands, captivated by the exotic sights and interesting looking people. I marvelled at the vivid pictures; I still have this book and it still stirs the same wonder in me today. While we now have an infinitesimal number of images and photographs at our fingertips, we should never underestimate the beauty of a book. How amazing, I thought, to be able to visit these places one day and talk to their inhabitants.

The Start of My Love Affair With Language

I have often been asked if I have a French or Spanish background (I have neither) and how I came to be a language teacher. I grew up in a little town in Northern Ireland, decades before computers and the internet became part of our lives. No languages were taught at my primary school, no-one in my family spoke another language and I had no way of hearing anyone speak anything other than English.

When I was 11, my parents took us camping in France, on the family’s first overseas holiday. We stayed on the Côte Sauvage, where the French liked to holiday, and I spent a blissful month running around barefoot in the sun with all the local children. My senses were on fire; I had never seen such striking landscapes, smelt that uniquely French summer scent, felt such warmth on my skin, eaten such delicious food, or heard such foreign sounds. If I wanted to communicate with my new friends, it had to be in French. What a gift, what an opportunity.

Without grasping the significance of what was happening, by the end of the holidays I was beginning to speak French quite confidently and it felt amazing. My parents were equally enamoured with France, and we returned each year to spend a month in the sun.

My love affair with language learning and exploring other cultures had begun. At school I started studying French, then German, then Spanish, all of which I continued in tertiary study. I spent a year teaching in a French lycée, studied at the University of Granada and spent six months living and working in Madrid.

Languages have enriched my life beyond all measure, allowing me to work, travel, make friends, forge connections, explore the world. I became a teacher because I wanted to share with others my passion for and knowledge of languages.

Enhancing My Life Through Language

Ten years ago, when travelling solo around Italy during a period of long service leave, I once again felt the excitement and challenge of learning a new language from scratch. Prior to departure I bought a book and a CD and began teaching myself Italian. The ability to communicate in another language brings a thrilling sense of achievement which is truly empowering. While I was in Italy, doors opened, and strangers smiled. The whole trip was greatly enhanced by my efforts to communicate with the locals and go beyond the average tourist experience.

The enormous cognitive benefits of second language learning and the impact it has on brain function are well documented. Bilingual children demonstrate greater creativity, cognitive development and divergent thinking than monolingual children. Learning a second language has also been shown to improve proficiency in one’s first language. Those who are competent in more than one language regularly outscore their peers in tests of both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.

These are important findings for parents and students who seek rich educational experiences; knowledge of languages and intercultural understanding have a core role to play in education. As an IB school, PLC embraces this. Apart from the obvious travel and employment benefits, languages broaden our personal horizons, by enhancing our understanding of others and affording us new perspectives on the world beyond our borders.

Languages have brought immense joy to my life. Speaking another language is a skill that connects us to the world. Language builds communities, creates connections and enables communication between cultures. Feeling part of a community, being connected and being able to express ourselves effectively in our own language, to voice what’s inside us, is a key element in well-being. How wonderful, therefore, to be able to do that in more than one language.

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