Tag: education

Not a Nerd, A Linguist

I love languages. I haven’t always. My language learning was somewhat limited in secondary school as PowerPoints made me peeved and speaking exercises were sickening to me. I have always felt that there is something so incredibly embarrassing and frustrating about trying to speak a foreign language. It is almost like you are a toddler again, crying with frustration about how you can’t tell people what you really think with the limited words at your disposal. It’s yet more embarrassing because it is easy to feel when talking to a conversation partner in a foreign language that you are incredibly boring. Where in English you would usually launch into an elaborate story about how the coffee machine scalded your hand and how the dog was sick in your slippers this morning, when asked how your day is, in a different language you resort to saying ‘It’s ok’.

However when you do eventually get past the point of being horrendously embarrassed with every decibel, you can start to enjoy yourself. You start to learn phrases which you like and which are fun to throw into conversation (my particular favourite is ‘it’s a storm in a teacup’) and then you feel pretty smart. Yes I said it. You feel smart. Why is there a big taboo over acknowledging when you have learnt or done something which represents a high level of intellectual skill? Everyone likes to feel smart, and that is one thing that you do feel with languages.

Taking you back a few weeks to my trip to the Touchdown Dance event in Birmingham; we were waiting at the tram station when a Japanese couple approached a friend of mine. Between them the couple had determined how to ask how to get into ‘Centre town’. My friend explained to them that they needed to get the tram from the other platform. The couple did not understand this, and I found myself trying to explain it to them. My friends tried to keep their laughs internal as I told the couple in a thick Japanese accent exactly what my friend had said, occasionally throwing in one of the only relevant words I know in Japanese ‘Ryoko – Travel’. The couple got it though, the accent and that one word of their mother tongue had earnt understanding, and the laughs of my friends turned to surprise. It was a pretty good feeling.

I have the confidence of a spoon. I don’t like compliments and have to work hard at not getting angry at those who try to give me them. In fact until the trip to France in march this year I wouldn’t even admit that I would like to do a degree within languages because I was so adamant I was rubbish at it. In my classes I don’t feel that confident, because my colleague and lecturer obviously know a lot more than me, I’m learning though. But just occasionally, completely out of the blue, my knowledge takes me by surprise and makes me smile. So now I have just decided that smiling is as good a reason as any to take a degree in a subject.

This week I have done work experience in the languages department of my college and I have really enjoyed it. Particularly today when I delivered a lesson to an NVQ class.

So… If nearly two-thirds of 300 UK firms have said that they prefer staff with language skills. Why aren’t more people learning them? French, German and Spanish were highly commended by the companies but Arabic and Mandarin are vastly growing in importance. Research shows that one in five schools in England have a persistently low up-take of languages, which in this job deprived environment is ridiculous. However, with most schools in England offering mainly European languages like French, German and Spanish the chances of even the most enthusiastic young people picking up highly sought after languages like Arabic and Mandarin are slim. Make it available in schools and make it exciting. Communication is never a bad thing.

At the news that in college we may get the opportunity of conversational Arabic next year with a volunteer I was very excited. Then I somehow felt the need to make a self deprecating phrase about how I am such a nerd that I embarrass myself sometimes. To which my teacher replied: “You’re not a nerd, you’re a linguist.”, and I guess I am quite proud of that.


Prompted by: http://bbc.in/1lY0HkD

Moving Forwards

As I write this I am at my desk in a room that I didn’t know I would be living in less than two months ago. There is a suitcase on the floor with stuff spilling out as I attempt to pack. My ever faithful guide dog is asleep in her bed, choosing to ignore the chaos. I have been at my new college for seven weeks now and it is nearly half term, and time to go home.

If I think about all the things that I have done in the last seven weeks it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. I’ve grown so much in independence, resilience and responsibility. I’ve done so many weird and wonderful things and formed closer friendships than I could have ever hoped. If I think about the the amount of time that has passed between nervously getting out of the taxi with my Mum and Dad on the first day to right now, it feels almost non-existent.

Moving to a specialist college was hard at times because in some ways it felt like I was giving up on myself and on ‘the system’. I want to live as a person and not as an impairment, and I was afraid that the move to specialist education would contradict this aim. But I am proud that I have made the decision, because now I can learn and I can have just a normal college experience. Normal meaning not having to justify myself, or fight for my access to the curriculum. My college isn’t so different from any other- there are a wide range of pupils with different personalities and abilities, we do lectures in the day and have fun with friends at lunch and in the evenings. At my old school I was constantly having to justify why I needed help, why I was doing things in a certain way and why it mattered that I couldn’t read things. It was exhausting. Now I barely have to talk about my sight because it is just a matter of fact that everyone has their own requirements for learning. On letters from school it used to state that things should be in my ‘preferred’ reading format, as if it would be nice if I could have it but it wasn’t pressing if I didn’t. Now my lecturers know what I need and it is waiting for me on the desk when I come into the classroom. I don’t worry anymore, because the focus at college is certainly on the person rather than the impairment.

On top of normal subjects most people here do additional lessons. Transitional support helps us to plan what we are going to do when we leave here and independent living skills teaches us everything from ironing to cooking. It’s not all about learning to get grades, it’s about learning for life itself.

I’m home for the holidays now, and although it is good to be in my own bed and away from work for a while I can’t help but think about college. This time last year I was struggling; ill, stressed and there was a question mark over whether I would actually complete my secondary education. Moving on, the changes are huge and overwhelming, but so very positive. I am so grateful to my parents for putting massive resources of time and energy into helping me get the funding to go to college, and to the college itself of course.

Obviously I know that we live in a ‘mainstream’ world and that I am not always going to be able to have the same ease of access as I do at college. However after my experience of studying for GCSE’s with very poor access to the curriculum there was no way that I could repeat the process for my A Levels. Whilst at college I am learning what technology can help me from other people, rather than doing my own research and being unsure of what I actually need. There are many people in the VI community who see going into specialist education as isolating yourself from the ‘seeing’ world. I don’t see it like that at all! In my opinion going into the specialist system is helping me repair almost. I am learning that it is possible for me to learn properly and achieve given the right resources, and I am also learning what those resources are. When I do end my time at college, and hopefully move on to university, I will know what I need and how to produce it. I will have had the time to try different things- technologies, printed formats and techniques to know what I like and what works best for me. Going to college has taken away the day-to-day emphasis on my sight, and it is truly allowing me to see myself, and develop, as an individual. This is something that I needed to do very badly, and I am so grateful I have been able to. It is definitely onwards and upwards from here.

I'm in repair