Why language learning is never a waste

Originally published at learninglog.carleton.ca

We’ve all experienced the language classes of grammar worksheets and verb conjugation exercises.

Through memorizing verb tenses and vocabulary, it’s easy to let our minds wonder why any of this really matters. That’s what learning a new language meant to me, until this summer when I studied intensive French in Grenoble, France for a month.

The Summer Language program is through Carleton’s ISSO, where you stay in university residence or with a host family, taking 20 hours of French class every week for the month. The program involved all international students from Brazil to China to the United Arab Emirates, all there  for the same reasons: to immerse ourselves in the French culture and learn the language.

Some stereotypes of the French are true; they eat bread with everything (I once ordered a sandwich at a restaurant and got a side of baguette) and they do kiss both cheeks as a greeting for meeting a stranger or seeing an old friend. But these are the things you can’t learn in a class. By the end of the month, my conversations with my host family has transformed from talking about my hobbies and what was for dinner, into discussions about the immigration crisis or the French education system. When you live in a French-speaking country, your motivation for learning verb tenses shifts from getting a good mark to being able to communicate and connect with real people. And lucky for us in Canada, you don’t have to leave the country.

Two summers ago, I participated in Explore, a similar program but within Canada, and I went to Chicoutimi, Québec. I stayed with a host family, took classes everyday for a month in French, including music and radio courses. I was amazed at learning how along with the different language, came a very different culture, one where everyone I met referred to themselves as Québécois over Canadian.

I would recommend learning another language to everyone, and you don’t necessarily have to travel. Carleton offers courses in lots of language, the ISSO organizes programs and resources and the French Department holds oral conversation groups open to anyone taking a French class. And if English is your second language, LSS offers English Conversation Sessions.

But if you have the chance to live in a place where the language you’re learning is the only one spoken, your learning curve will escalate. For me, French class is never just a course with assignments for a final mark anymore. It’s an opportunity to stay connected with host families and French friends. It opens up the possibility of traveling to a francophone place and being able to understand a culture and people way more than I could without the language. It’s never just studying how to speak; it’s learning a culture, history, way of expression and people. For that reason, language learning is always worth it.

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