If you go down to the Language Centre today, you’re sure to find a big surprise: students, and lots of them! All nationalities and abilities, studying electives, and, heaven forbid, actual degrees, in langauge! ¡Dios mío! Think the whole world is able to ‘speaky the English’? You are very much mistaken, my friend.
Let me take you back to my school days (so about 153 years ago then). Raised in a monolingual household, taking German from eleven (which I barely passed) I had no active interest in foreign languages. Neither did my school pay much attention to instilling the importance of languages in terms of making friends, or for trade relations and diplomacy. Nope. Nada. Zilch.
Now, as I approach the inevitable quarter-life-crisis, I feel the need to desperately compensate for my nation’s shameful lack of bilingualism and am studying for a degree in a modern language – the linguistic equivalent of going and getting a Harley Davidson I suppose – and it has been by no means easy. My brain is no longer ‘plastic’ as advocated by Lenneberg, therefore biologically speaking, I may or may not have missed my chance to truly absorb another language. I look at my fellow multilingual-from-a-young-age classmates and how they are able to communicate fluently in various languages and I am almost literally consumed with envy. Bloody polyglots.
Walk down any corridor on campus and you hear it all: Spanish, Italian, Polish, Chinese… I can swear quite efficiently at you in all of these languages (thank you, my international amigos!), but ask me to debate on the recent Obama-Romney presidential race and I will cower in a dark corner, cover myself from head to toe in Vaseline and feign insanity so you won’t even entertain the idea of asking me to do so ever again. A pessimistic attitude towards my own ability has to be fought every single day, and it is something I am glad to say I am overcoming – with baby steps. This attitude, along with a hefty dose of laziness, is something I believe that prevents many Brits from taking up another language, and it need not be this way!
Studying a foreign language, even for a mere hour of your time a week, is one of the most rewarding, productive things you can do with your life. Even if you can’t articulate yourself at first you will quickly pick up a passive understanding that will help you be able to sneakily eavesdrop on conversations walking to Roger Stevens, or you’ll be able to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ on your holiday to Warsaw. Or something. You don’t even have to study a language for an elective, you can just borrow resources for free. FREE! Who knows where it could take you?
Bottom line is: if I can pick up a language or three at a late stage, it’s never too late for you. Promise.