It’s a polyglot life, for me

When I started my degree I was focused on just learning the languages, but the best part of the last six years has been the people I have met and the experiences I have had as a direct result.


I am not at my sharpest first thing in the morning, and so I thought I might have misheard my youngest son.


“Polluted!” No explanation. No elaboration.

When you start an OU degree, it feels like an individual choice, something you are doing for yourself, whether for your career, or for the simple pleasure of learning something interesting. However, the truth is that it affects those closest to you as well, in ways that you don’t always foresee.


Suddenly it dawns on me. I should perhaps mention that I am in the final year of a BA in Language Studies, studying mainly French and German but making up my final credits by resurrecting GCSE Italian and dabbling in Beginners’ Chinese. This is the reason that I have covered the wall behind our bed with Post-It notes of the Italian vocabulary I am trying to learn. Which is, in turn, is the reason that my nine-year-old son is now testing me to see if I have learned them yet.

Inquinato?” I venture. No praise. No affirmation. Just on to the next one.


And so it continues, until having diverted me completely he slips in a request to watch TV and scampers downstairs, leaving me wondering what the Italian word for manipulative is. But he now knows all the Italian words on the scraps of paper too, and I also wonder whether he will one day speak Italian.  The children (and the dog) have been alternately entertained and exasperated by having to listen to the news in Italian, songs in German and the radio in French, but they seem to have picked up a few words along the way. (The dog must be almost fluent in something by now. He has to listen to it during the day too). In the process they have also grasped the idea that in spite of being English, they can learn languages, that it makes travelling abroad easier and more fun, and that perhaps, more importantly, learning doesn’t need to stop when you leave school.

When I started my degree I was focused on just learning the languages, but the best part of the last six years has been the people I have met and the experiences I have had as a direct result. In an effort to practise my speaking I found online partners in France and Germany who were willing to talk to me on Skype – half in English and half in their own language.  I signed up with the local Twinning Association and spent five days in Northern Germany where I befriended my wonderful host who has been to stay with us several times since. I have now met all my Skype partners face to face, either staying with them or hosting them here, and one of them invited my older son to spend a week with them speaking German in preparation for his GCSE – linguistically and culturally a great success. And that’s without mentioning the residential courses abroad and the friendships and experiences that they brought.

And having benefitted from so much hospitality myself, it has encouraged me to try and reciprocate a little, inviting foreign students from Japan and Thailand to come and stay with us, which has been another opportunity for the children to meet people from a completely different culture to theirs, thereby getting a picture of the wider world. We were able to arrange a French exchange for our daughter this summer, staying with a lovely family on an island on the Atlantic coast, and we enjoyed our recent road trip around France, when we essentially visited a number of my new friends who welcomed my family into their homes too.

I thought I’d enjoy doing an OU degree. I hoped it would make a bit of a difference in my life. But I had no idea that it would result in broadening my children’s experiences and ideas too, or that we would have so much fun – perhaps not from the TMAs, but as a direct result of the decision to study.  The only loser, really, has been the dog. As I start playing a cheesy YouTube video designed to teach children Chinese, in a desperate effort to learn some basic Mandarin phrases, he looks at me with a pained expression.

“Really?  We have to listen to this too?”


Posted on behalf of Pippa Cleeve

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