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Lifestyle

Learning a new language

By ResLife 06 Dec 2020

Learning a foreign language is an enriching experience that can open many doors for you at a personal level and in terms of your career. If you are looking to learn a new language, then Cardiff is one of the most ideal places to do so. If that is not currently on your list, then hopefully this article, along with the vast array of opportunities available to you at the university, will convince you otherwise.

First and foremost, Cardiff is the capital city of Wales. Many of us living and studying in Cardiff do not appreciate that Wales is a country on its own, with its own history, culture, heritage and, importantly, language. If you are new here you would have noticed that all signs and labels are written in both Welsh and English, with Welsh often written first.

The Welsh Language Act of 1993 made it a legal requirement that all road signs and publicly displayed signage were to be written in both languages. As the premiere Welsh university, Cardiff University is very proud of its Welsh roots and is an avid promoter of Welsh language and culture. One way through which the university does so is by offering Welsh language classes as part of its Welsh for All scheme, a subsidiary of the Languages for All scheme. 

Wales flag

The Languages for All (LfA) scheme is one of the best things currently on offer at the university, in my opinion. It gives students the chance to learn a new language for FREE. Personally, I signed up to learn Spanish in my second year. Spanish is one of the many languages available, including Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Welsh.

For each language, there are multiple levels: from absolute beginners who cannot speak a word of that language (A1 CEFR level), to more proficient speakers who seek to develop their grasp of the language (C1 CEFR level). It is important to note that while many levels are available to choose from, a certain number of students must sign up for that level so that a class can be formed. If you are unsure which level you are at, you can try taking the online quiz available on the LfA website.

Languages for All offer different options for students to learn a language. There is the conventional weekly course, intense crash courses that are two-weeks long, and autonomous online courses that can be completed at one’s own pace. As I personally have experience with the weekly courses, that is what I will be focusing on in the rest of the article. If you are interested in learning more about the crash courses or autonomous online courses, check Languages for All’s website, email them at languagesforall@cardiff.ac.uk or call them at +44 (0)29 2087 5602. You can also check out this on the resources offered by the university to learn a language independently.  

For the conventional weekly course, you can either take it for credit (I think most LfA modules are worth 10 credits) or as a free-standing module. The class meets once per week, for two hours, for eight weeks. Classes are held mainly in the afternoons and evenings. Most are held in the Cathays campus (in the School of Modern Languages in 66a Park Place), but some can be organised to take place in the Heath campus. While the course is for free, you may be asked to buy the recommended textbook.

For my A1 beginner Spanish course, I had to buy a book for around £18 (some of my classmates found a free PDF version online, but I am not sure about the legality of that). The good thing is that the same textbook is usually used to teach multiple levels. So, in my case, if I decided to take A2 Spanish, I will still use the same textbook. Another good thing is that once you have your own textbook, you can continue to learn the language independently even after the course ends. I think all LfA recommended textbooks can be bought from Blackwell’s on the ground floor of the Students’ Union.

What the Languages for All programme also does well is that it facilitates multiple opportunities for students to practise learning and speaking the language outside of the classroom. For example, there is a language partner scheme where you partner up with a student who is a fluent speaker of the language you are studying. There is also the language café that is held biweekly in the “I want to ride my bike café” on 26 Park Place, where you go, meet and converse with fluent speakers and other students who are taking an LfA course or who are simply just interested in language and cross-cultural exchange! 

two friends sat in a cafe chatting

Learning a language in lockdown

During lockdown, many people have decided to occupy themselves by learning a new skill, and learning a language is a very accessible to skill to try to master. There are many textbooks you can buy in your desired languages at different levels so that you can have a go at self-teaching yourself at home. 

One of the most popular and effective ways of learning a language, especially at home, is by downloading an app. Duolingo is a free app that you can download on your phone and use on your desktop that makes language learning fun and immersive. You will take part in activities that will span the 4 main skills (writing, speaking, listening and reading) as well as learning important grammar. You create a profile and work your way through the structured syllabus until you reach a recap quiz at the end of a level to see if you're ready for the next step! 

Duolingo will also remind you to log on to the app every day so that you can keep up with your language learning. It is recommended that you spend at least 30 mins a day on honing your skills to make your time as effective as possible.

So, what are you waiting for? Make use of the vast array of opportunities available to you here at the university and start learning a new language. Before I started learning Spanish, I learned Mandarin Chinese for around 5 years, which allowed me to travel to China TWICE, meet new people and study the incredibly rich history and heritage of China. It has also allowed me to make acquaintances with many of the Chinese and Chinese-speaking students here in Cardiff! While in my case learning Chinese was a very personally enlightening experience, for others learning a language can be a key step to opening many career possibilities for them. For instance, if you are loving life in Cardiff and are looking to stay here beyond university, then learning Welsh can help you massively, as many job opportunities here require some fluency in Welsh. Nevertheless, if they do not require it, it will still definitely boost your chances within a very competitive field. What is more to say is that if you are a healthcare student here in Cardiff who speaks (or is learning Welsh) then that will definitely set you apart from others, especially since some patients prefer to communicate in Welsh!

All in all, learning a new language has the potential to be life-changing. Even if it is not, it is still super fun! So, if not for anything, do it for the fun that comes along. I’ll leave you with a Chinese proverb that says: “To learn a new language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.” 

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