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ASC sandrablog

Submitted by Sabine Hutcheson, Education Consultant at TutorsPlus

As some readers may know, TutorsPlus is part of ASC Education Group which, for more than 40 years, has been providing high quality language training to private individuals, corporate clients and young learners in Geneva and Vaud. Having grown up with three languages in both English- and French-speaking countries, language learning is a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve invited guest blogger Sandra Bialystok, polyglot and traveler, to share her thoughts on a topic which will surely touch most of you.

The advantages of language learning; or, what learning Italian taught Sandra Bialystok other than how to order the perfect pasta

Many years ago – when I was young and had few obligations – I went to Rome to live with my boyfriend (now my husband) and to learn Italian. My French boyfriend had been sent to Rome for his work, and after a crash course in the language, he was immediately expected to converse with the local employees. I, on the other hand, could learn the language in a more leisurely manner, even though I was eager to also become fluent.

I desperately wanted to learn Italian. I already spoke French, and so knew what it was like to be able to learn about a country as a “linguistic insider”, and I wanted to have the same experience in Italy. I had always had a fascination with the Italian culture, and I understood that learning the language could give me more direct access to the country’s history and traditions. Not only would I be able to order in Italian in restaurants, but one day I might even be able to read Dante in the original! My language learning curve was slow at the start, but I vividly remember the day that the language clicked. I woke up one morning and I could speak Italian!  I couldn’t do it very well – and my boyfriend teased me about how slowly I spoke – but I could communicate without searching for every single word. People understood me.

Achieving that moment of comprehension, the déclic as it’s called in French, is the Holy Grail of language learning. Teachers and students alike are constantly searching for it and the rewards for getting there are immeasurable. In my case, reaching that stage allowed me to experience the Italian culture in a new way, just as I had hoped it would. And it meant that I no longer felt like a tourist in the city I was living in. But I also noticed how speaking Italian made me express myself differently. A new vocabulary and set of expressions made me think about my experiences in a different light, changing how I spoke and sometimes even how I saw the world.

These days, I see this linguistic personality shift in my children. Bilingual in French and English, their register, body language and even subjects of conversation change depending on the language they’re speaking. I revel in seeing them explore their two languages and figure out their identity that goes with each. I love that they have the opportunity to learn about their native cultures – French and Canadian – and well as their adoptive Swiss one through the languages of those countries.

In addition to the cultural, educational and personal advantages of learning a new language, recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of bilingualism on the brain. Bilingual children have been shown to have stronger executive functions. This means that they are better at switching between tasks, selectively attending to relevant information, and ignoring distracting stimuli, all of which are important for everyday activities like multitasking and complex performance. On the other end of the age spectrum, older bilingual adults are able to postpone the symptoms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease and continue to function for a few years longer than their monolingual counterparts, even though the disease is likely progressing in their brains. Even if you are not fully bilingual, speaking more than one language on a regular basis can be beneficial – it is a form of mental gymnastics, keeping your brain active. And like muscles, the more your brain is used, the stronger it gets.

Learning a new language is often a fraught experience – it can bring up insecurities and it makes us feel vulnerable.  It reminds us of all the things we have yet to learn and the cultures we have not yet explored. But knowing that the moment of déclic does come and might be around the corner, can make the process encouraging and, just maybe, life altering.

If you are interested in language training for adults, you may visit ASC at http://www.asc-ih.ch/geneve/en/, or, for children, Key English School may be your answer at www.key-english-school.ch. Of course, TutorsPlus is always available for advice at www.tutorsplus.com.

Sandra's Bio

sandrabialystok150Sandra Bialystok has been writing and editing publications on humanitarian issues for over six years in both Geneva and in her hometown of Toronto. Prior to that, she received a PhD in Comparative Literature, where wrote a dissertation comparing women's use of language in French, Spanish and Italian medieval texts. Sandra’s perspectives on language learning are supported by the multilingual team at ASC International House, which has been offering courses in French, English and a plethora of other languages in Geneva since 1974. Learn more at www.asc-ih.ch


Sabine's Bio

sabine hutcheson bioSabine Hutcheson is a British-trained school teacher, with over a decade’s teaching experience in Switzerland, UK and neighbouring France. She has taught a variety of subjects to children from 5 to 18 years old, as well as to adults, and is now Education Consultant at TutorsPlus.

Visit www.tutorsplus.com to find out more about their education consultancy, tuition service, SAT college entrance preparation and intensive IGCSE & IB revision courses.