The Importance of Language Learning
Posted on 17 January 2020

At the end of August I completed a one week internship in a psychiatric home in Frankfurt, Germany. To begin with I was admittedly apprehensive.

The German language has been a fascination of mine since I first began learning independently at age 14. A cheap grammar book from Ebay, published in the 70s, guided me through my initial struggles with the grammatical elements and the rest I gleaned from YouTube before moving on to newspapers and novels. GCSE German was crucial in affording me an insight into the language and showing me that attaining fluency was possible. From the age of 13 I had participated in annual youth trips to Belgium through my village’s twinning scheme. Once a year, children from Malle, Saint Savin and Oberursel (the latter being Farnborough’s twinned city too) were immersed, linguistically and culturally, and exposed to the wonders of Europe.

Fuelled by this crucial cultural exposure, my German comprehension accelerated in a manner I couldn’t have predicted: by age 16 I could communicate comfortably in both written and spoken German. Along the way I began to appreciate the hidden beauty of language learning. Simply being able to converse is a rather basic benefit accompanied by a myriad of advantages; one learns appreciation for a new culture, becomes more worldly and develops crucial understanding of communication that is transferable in many areas of life. In learning a language, you choose to make yourself vulnerable: you resign yourself to years of embarrassing mistakes and misunderstandings: you develop resilience and confidence to strike up conversations with strangers to practice. You learn that language is much more than a means of communication; it encompasses culture, values, and ways of thinking. Furthermore, in beginning to analyse the structure and meaning of a second language, one becomes aware of the nuances used in everyday English, communicated by subtleties in tone or colloquialisms. You learn to be an active listener.

Consequently, I was overjoyed to discover that the college would endorse my wish to complete German A level a year early which I sat in June 2019. I feel this was a crucial step in supporting my language development, for only by virtue of getting to know the language department, did I arrange my internship. Due to the invaluable twinning links between Farnborough and Oberursel, and moreover between the College and Oberursel Gymnasium, my place was organised by the Magistrate of the town and my accommodation arranged through the exchange link with a fantastic student who is participating in the next College exchange. Without these ties, an internship would have been impossible.

In Germany, I spent the week sitting in on patient evaluations and psychotherapy sessions: I was a fly on the wall during the daily team meetings with the head psychiatrist: I read through medical files, escorted patients around the complex to various appointments, I engaged in staff psychoanalysis forums and most importantly, I meticulously scribbled every new German word I heard. By the second day at the clinic, the departmental lead had offered me a year-long placement as a full time intern.

My host family had welcomed me with open arms and confessed they felt I had, in the short space of a week, become like a member of the family, no doubt enabled by my ability to converse. My week at the clinic was eye-opening in a number of ways. It was an intense but perfect example of how immersion best nurtures fluency. Speaking German had become second nature. I now know for sure that I wish to study psychology in Germany, possibly the greatest linguistic hurdle I will face.

Language learning and cultural exchange is essential in making British students competitive in the world of work: without these opportunities we will be disadvantaged against international students who, with their experiences of languages, benefit from a myriad of communication and transferable skills.