This week we have a guest post from the lovely Lily. Lily She has just completed her time in Portugal with the Erasmus programme. Lingotastic only exists because of the Erasmus programme, we met in the UK as native German Maik came over with the Erasmus programme. But, enough of our story, over to Lily…
Hi I’m Lily and I’m a third year languages student. For the past nine months I have been studying in Portugal as part of the Erasmus programme for my degree. I’m studying French and Portuguese, and usually in the UK it is compulsory to spend the third year of your studies abroad in order to gain firsthand language experience before completing your final year back at your home institution. My university is slightly different in that it does not allow you to split the semesters between countries, so the summer vacations either side of the academic year are crucial if, like me, there’s a second language to maintain! So last summer I was an au pair for a family near Lausanne in Switzerland, and this July I will be following an intensive course in Lyon, France. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten everything!
Languages are unfortunately becoming less and less popular in the UK, as options for GCSEs and A-Levels, and many languages university departments have closed in recent years. It’s a real shame as I’ve found my degree to offer me great flexibility with ideas for the future and opportunities for study. I think I was extremely lucky to have had a truly passionate and engaging French teacher at secondary school for 5 years, and her dedication and inspiration helped me to pursue my eventual degree choice. My French classes at school were taught completely in the target language, and as we were all beginners, this was definitely like being thrown in at the deep end. However, it was certainly the most effective way for me to pick up my first second language, which was far more successful than my attempt with Spanish, the classes for which were taught in English.
When it came to choosing degree programmes, I knew French would figure in the mix in one way or another, and the great thing about most of the degree programmes on offer is that you can normally take a language as an elective module, so you can gain accreditation for language learning even if your degree is in maths or zoology. A joint honours language programme was the route I decided upon, and I chose to learn Portuguese ab initio, taking an accelerated course. Sometimes when I tell people what I study, they ask “why Portuguese?”, and I still don’t have a concrete answer. It’s partly because I wanted to learn a language that was a bit more niche and away from the usual European languages that are taught at schools (not that Portuguese is so very niche with over 200 million speakers worldwide, but still), and I also had hopes to spend the year abroad in Brazil, because it would coincide with the Olympics and I thought that would be a good plan. And saying you can speak Portuguese is normally a good conversation opener when you’re talking to people.
As you can imagine, learning a new language as well as starting university in a new city was quite overwhelming, but we all got there in the end! Because the course was accelerated, we learned most of the grammar and the intricacies of the language very quickly, and as a result my range of vocabulary was quite limited, but this was justified with the reasoning that the year abroad would help fill the gaps. I eventually chose to study in Coimbra, Portugal, mainly due to costs and a few other reasons that made staying closer to home more desirable at the time, and I’m so glad I came here! I’ve still got about a month left in which I need to finish some work and take my final lot of exams, but other than that it’s going to be a time to enjoy and relish my last days in Portugal. Erasmus is such a good opportunity for all students, not just linguists, to participate in, because you’re living in a new country with new people, and you’ve got to adapt pretty quickly to a new culture and vibe; my friend who is studying in Germany came to visit me and she said she had more culture shock coming to Portugal than when she first arrived in her host city. It’s not all coffee drinking and partying., as many people think Erasmus is (well, it is for some, but this academic year carries a lot of weighting for my final degree classification, so I have had to maintain some work ethic throughout), but there are infinite opportunities to meet people from all over the world, to travel to other countries and cities, and to become well acquainted with another city and country. I think I know more of Portugal than I do of the UK in all honesty now!
As far as I can tell, my language skills have improved, and I can hold a more natural conversation in Portuguese, which was my main goal. I certainly haven’t achieved fluency or anything like it, but I’m more competent and I can understand much more, which is all that I could have asked for. Sure sometimes I can share a joke and laugh with the postman, and other times the waiter can’t really understand what I’m trying to order, but it’s swings and roundabouts, which is what I’ve come to expect with language learning. Also, I’ve developed a genuine love for my third language, which is great, because before I came here my relationship with Portuguese was slightly more love-hate, depending on how well my revision was going on a particular day. I would certainly recommend the Erasmus experience to everyone, even just taking a couple weeks out of the year to study a course somewhere abroad would be a great experience for anyone. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life so far – I know I’m only young! – and I cannot recommend it enough.
Lily has completed her time in Coimbra, Portugal and in now in Lyon France improving her French. Follow her adventures on Lily has a blog.
How did you boost you language skills? Let us know in the comments below, you could even be our next guest blogger!