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February 12th, 2021
Ileana Daniel – Where Languages have Taken Me
I have always had a deep curiosity and affinity for languages. The oh-so-natural way most Europeans can just slip into English whenever they fancy or need to has always been a source of envy for me as a native English speaker who grew up with one language. My mum’s side of the family is Italian, and I do remember picking up the language with ease as a young child, especially enjoying the gushing commentary from family members at sprawling long lunches as I showed off what I had learnt. Sadly though, I was not brought up with Italian as a second language, and now as an adult I can barely speak a word of it. This, I feel, was the main motivation for me to pursue languages throughout school and university.

I studied French and German throughout my time at school. Language acquisition seems to come naturally to me, and I have always been quietly proud of my ability to be explorative and adventurous in class. That said, I find it difficult to commit the more advanced grammatical rules to memory, although this has never caused many problems; I seem to intuit the correct grammar more often than not and have an ear for ‘what sounds right’- my Grandpa, who travelled a lot in his capacity as an antiques dealer and art restorer, was fluent in many languages- even possessing a high level of Finnish, which I’ve heard is devilishly tricky to master- so perhaps my ear comes from him.

Having pursued languages throughout my time at school, it seemed such a shame to me that I might leave my proficiency at A-Level. I remember writing in my personal statement that “fluency in another language is my most cherished ambition”. Five years on, and I still agree with eighteen-year-old me; I recognise the frustration of my younger self in not growing up bilingual, and so I am hotly determined that whether they like it or not, my children (if I am lucky enough to have them one day) will be brought up speaking French.

I started a degree in French and German at the University of Bristol in 2016 and, studies aside, had a bit of a tough time, leading to me dropping German in 2018, but going on to graduate with a high 2:1 in French in 2020. The way my degree went was not neat and easy flowing as I had imagined when applying, and I certainly did not expect to write my dissertation or sit my finals with the coronavirus pandemic thrumming in the background. Life’s wrinkles and hiccups will come no matter how we might try to iron and starch them out, and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t fall in love with Bristol as a city, and the friends and people I have met there.

Fluency was my aim when embarking on my BA. I knew that languages would count as legal tender when applying for jobs, but a career as a translator or teacher never really appealed to me- within the first six weeks of study I worried that I had got it wrong, that I should drop out and pursue nursing or medicine, something which would allow me to care for others; but my eyes were firmly on the fluency prize, and so I stuck at it. Today I can reluctantly say that I am fluent in French- I am reluctant only because I know how much there will always remain for me to learn. My French ranges from understanding poetry written in the 11th century, to slang from the streets of 2020 Paris, and that is good enough for me at the moment.

I am currently embarking on a completely new adventure, studying an MSc (again, at Bristol) in Psychology of Education. I am beginning to go full-circle, having made significant in-roads to my pursuit of French, I can now turn my attention back to a career where I will hopefully support and listen to those who need it. All being well, my current aim is to successfully apply for the DClinPsy in a few years’ time, in order to qualify as a Clinical Psychologist. Despite this seemingly dramatic change in direction, I would not have arrived where I am without having studied languages. My degree allowed me to assist in secondary school French classes, to support learners with Special Educational Needs, and eventually put me in touch with a French family in Bristol who I nannied for alongside my final year of undergraduate study. All of these things gave me access to explore a blossoming fascination in language acquisition, in child development, and most importantly how our emotional needs vary so greatly.

I endeavour to maintain this level (hopefully even higher!) of French for the rest of my life and will certainly be returning to France once travel has become safe again. Languages have profoundly impacted who I am, and how I perceive the world; studying them at university provided the perfect environment for me to gently feel my way to the route I’m on now, all while indulging my taste for literature, history, culture (to name a few) and spoken language.

Ileana Daniel

Ileana is a master’s student from Suffolk. After studying French and German for her BA, she graduated in the summer of 2020 and decided to stay at the University of Bristol to pursue an MSc in Psychology of Education. After completing the MSc, she hopes to work towards securing a place on the DClinPsy (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology).

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