The Story Behind My Second Language

Monday 15 October 2012

Awhile ago, I was approached by Kaplan International Colleges about participating in their Inspire Language Learning Blog Challenge and this being a topic close to my heart, I decided this was a topic I'd love to cover on my blog.

inspire language learning

I'd love to say that I had some sort of master plan when it came to learning a second language, but alas, I was not quite so organized.  You see, in Canada, it's mandatory for every student to receive some French language education being that it is one of our official languages.  I, like many grade 4 children, looked forward to this class in hopes of being able to speak a secret language that neither of my parents would understand.  Little did I know, it would take a lot more work and time than a lesson per week and that those secret conversations weren't going to exist until I was well out of my parent's house.

While it's mandatory to take a few years of French as a Second Language, students have the option of dropping the class as they get older and my classmates began dropping like flies but I decided to stick with it.  The progress was slow but I liked the class and I hoped that at some point, I might become fluent enough to hold a conversation.  It made sense to take French as my language requirement in University and when that went well, I enrolled for second year classes and then I had 12 out of 18 credits needed for a minor.  Again, it was logical to continue.

I didn't see the full benefits of my perseverance until after I completed my degree in Education.  As my fellow graduates were scrambling over a handful of jobs, my French minor landed me my first teaching job.  It was now my place to inspire school kids in Western Canada, where French is not widely spoken, to keep learning.  I listed all of those benefits in the info-graphic above (minus the 'sexy' stuff) but it was hard to get them to buy in at such a young age.  I knew that my second language had done me well and I hoped it would for my students too.

When my husband was offered a global position within his company, I had no idea just how thankful I'd be to have French as a second language.  A move to Gabon on the West coast of Africa transplanted us in a French speaking country where finding anyone who spoke English was a challenge in itself.  I listened to my husband remark that perhaps he shouldn't have dropped out of French the second he was permitted and I smugly grinned that my perseverance would pay off yet again.

While we've since departed Gabon and my French language skills aren't put to daily use, they continue to surprise me.  Recently, we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament in Brussels, Belgium when our car was locked in a parkade on a quiet Sunday morning and we had a F1 race to catch.  The security guard didn't speak English and the 3 gentlemen I was with did not speak French.  It was my stellar French skills that communicated our problem and ended up releasing our car from it's unintended imprisonment.

My second language has gained me numerous benefits when it comes to travel & career (and I'd like to think brain power too) that it's hard to argue which may be better than the other.  What I have learned is that it's difficult to plan ahead and it's impossible to know exactly where life is going to take us but I will guarantee that learning a second language will never hamper you and perhaps you'll be like me, it'll come in handy when you least expect it.

What's your language story?  


  1. I'm jealous that you succeeded in learning French. I tried. I took it all the way through high school, went to France on an exchange and have taken continuing education courses. I just don't think I'm meant to be fluent. I probably know it better than most of the people I went to high school with but I'm not fluent by any means.

  2. Agreed! I did immersion in school until grade 10 and then continued with as much French as I was allowed without doing immersion (the school let me too!). Technically my first language is French but I was taught English very young and when my parents separated, I lived with my English-speaking mother and my father just found it easier to speak in French.
    I still write my grandmother letters in French and I found my skills helpful during my recent trip with Mom to Paris-she let/made me do most of the talking!
    I've even spoken French here in Brisbane and took a course a year ago to brush up. Sometimes I even watch the French news if I catch it.
    It's definitely helpful-especially when I have a French last name so people automatically assume I can speak it!

  3. I think learning a second (or third or fourth haha) language is so crucial nowadays. It is great to see how much it has come into play as an advantage throughout your life. I took Latin when I was younger as a way to help me w/ my SATS and dropped it when I realized basketball would be my ticket to college, not grades (although I was a good student). Then I picked up Spanish. I was able to always get by when in Spanish speaking countries, but never really learned it well enough to hold a full conversation. Now I am learning probably the most relevant and important language in our world today, Norwegian. I know that will do wonders for me outside of Scandinavia ;)

    I am glad more American schools are taking languages seriously. It has always been an OPTION in American schools to take a language starting at like age 12 (well my school at least), but never FORCED. I think Spanish should be mandatory given it is supposedly going to overtake English at some point. Many skeptics get mad saying that people should speak English when coming to the US, BUT...if you actually look at the United States' official language...there is NONE. So people are just being ignorant ;)

    Once I learn Norwegian a little better on the speaking side of things, I am determined to take up Russian. I know that is difficult, but we are planning a move back to the US at some point and I need to bring back some skills with me that will set me apart in corporate land. And Norwegian is just not going to cut it. I know many businesses are constantly looking for Russian speakers, and Chinese is just too hard, so I'll give Russian a shot.

    Great post! Hopefully this will inspire some people to adopt a second language :)

  4. I'm a firm believer that having a grasp of more than one language is important for both cognitive and practical reasons. I also think that native English speakers are slightly more lazy about learning new languages because we assume/expect/anticipate that others have some grasp of English. Heaven knows Ive struggled through many a language class (and it gets harder with age), but while I've had moments of huffing, puffing and grumbling, there always comes a point in time when I find out how useful it can be. Its worth every single frustrating moment.

  5. this is so true! I'm glad you're finding ways to keep using it - I minored in French, too, but can't make enough excuses to practice and so am afraid I'm losing it!

  6. My mom always told me that for each language you know, your value is that of another person. It actually sounds a little harsh, but I think it does a good job at conveying the importance of learning another language. My language story is just beginning (well, kind of, I've taken several years of German in school but never really put it to use). I'm so excited to be able to communicate with that many more people in the world, oh and for that secret language. ;)

  7. I'm one of those public school French drop outs... I couldn't be high school president, and enrol in fine arts classes, and squeeze in French classes too. I think it's such a shame that the Nova Scotian education system forced me to chose (and is still forcing kids to chose). And of course, I so regret not sticking with it. French is immensely useful when travelling - we've used our limited skills in Morocco, France (duh), Belgium, even here in Malta.

    Oh, to be a polyglot!

  8. My children are going to learn every single language they can!!! :)

    I speak English, Mandarin, and Spanish...with just a bit of German. It's SO important to speak more than 1 language.

  9. One of the things I love is that my husband speaks multiple languages and it always trying to improve them! And traveling always makes me realize the importance of knowing at least basic phrases in different languages. I can't say I've mastered another language, but it's on my list, starting with German=)

  10. I am from Germany and I started to study English from grade 5 and French from grade 7 (we have 13 grades in general). I went to high school in the US to become fluent in English and I studied international business with classes in both English and French. I think for us in Europe it is "normal" to speak at least one other language if not more.
    I would love to be able to speak Italian as well, such a beautiful language!!!

  11. Like many of your peers I dropped out of Spanish as soon as I could. I come from a Hispanic decent and as generations grew, the language began to disappear. I always wanted to be able to speak the language but growing up in an environment that never used the language made it extremely difficult to stick so I gave up. I wish I never did.

  12. Hi,
    I love the French language, I took French classes back in high school, but I don't know it well,
    just enough to not get lost if I go to France one day ;).
    I speak 5 languages.
    My own, and four more from the countries next my country including the English.
    I also know something Spanish( puedo hablar pero no y escrivar):)

  13. this post is such an inspiration for my upcoming trip.
    fingers crossed i come home with SOME sort of spanish!

    xo the egg out west.

  14. I speak French fluently, but when you live in Brussels and work with the EU crowd, that feels like nothing. Most people here are shocked to learn that I speak any foreign language fluently. But that is just because I am American. Any other nationality, and they would expect me to speak more, which feels a little bit unfair but at the same time, sadly merited... I wish US school children were pushed to learn languages. While I do not need French to do my job here, it is definitely an advantage in terms of everyday life and breaking down any cultural barriers.

  15. I took French in high school as well, and I really want to get back into it! It's sad that American schools don't really push languages until high school. When I eventually have kids, I will definitely force them to learn different languages from a young age. For now though, I'll just be taking online French classes! :)

  16. Just found your blog via The Hockey Wife and I'm looking forward to reading it!

    I learned to speak Spanish and English at the same time and it has helped me so much. Also as a little kid, I went to this school where we learned French, so sometimes that comes through when I travel or am reading something in French.

    Knowing one romance language definitely helps when traveling in a country where other romance languages are spoken because of the similarities. I can even listen to the Portuguese radio station and translate, even though I never actually learned it. I hope to immerse my kids in Spanish (and maybe another tongue) someday.

  17. hi there!! newest follower to your AMAZING blog from the daily tay. sooo happy she introduced me because your blog is fantastic. i am hooked! cannot wait to read more and would love if you followed back!

  18. When I was younger, my mum had a french tutor and I used to sit in on all the lessons, because I was SO young I picked it up really quickly. I constantly kick myself for giving it up!

  19. French is quite difficult, as is German, but I've found it to be easy to pick up on those languages. I understand bits of what people are saying.

    At least you could use your skills to get yourself out of the predicament!

  20. I absolutely loved this post. I'm an ESL teacher in S. Korea and am always trying to find ways to motivate the kids I teach (who also take is as mandatory) that learning a second language is in fact VERY useful. I didn't carry my second language very far and it's been something that I've always regretted.


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