When one language isn’t enough…

According to the British Council, more than half of the world’s population functions in two or more languages on a daily basis. In other words, multilingualism, not monolingualism, is the norm and for some students, learning just one language other than English is not enough.selma

Selma Makas is a student who is currently studying VCE Units 1 and 2 Italian at her home school, Belmont High School, whilst also completing VCE Units 3 and 4 Bosnian at the Victorian School of Languages. Both languages will contribute towards her ATAR. Here are some of her thoughts about her language learning experience so far.

–          What languages do you study?

I am currently studying Year 11 VCE Italian and I am in my final year of VCE Bosnian, (Year 12) which I have been studying on Saturdays over the past 11 years at the Victorian School of Languages.

–          Do you get confused between the two languages?

If I do get confused between the two languages it is times when I nearly say Bosnian words instead of Italian ones. But when speaking in Bosnian, for example, I would automatically think that word in English and Italian. So, in my brain I am constantly automatically translating what I am saying or thinking in all three languages.

–          Does language learning get easier or harder once you already have one under your belt?

Luckily for me, my parents brought me up speaking Bosnian, explaining the fact it is my first language. I truly believe it is a blessing. It would be sad for me to not have learnt my mother-tongue and let it die off in a foreign country.

Having one refugee and one immigrant parent, both fresh from war-torn Bosnia, their English was nowhere near good enough to be able to teach me. As a child growing up, in primary school, I had trouble learning English because I wasn’t surrounded by it as much in my early years. I did have many grammatical issues through primary school but once I got into high school, reading books, being more attentive to my word choices and sentence structure, I was able to overcome that obstacle. As they say, things won’t come to you all by themselves, unless you do something to get them. Study and putting into practice those skills you have learnt is the best way to improve in any language.

After learning how to master a second language, I realised it was easier to learn any language now. From then, it all just came so easily to me, without one struggle. I realised this in my primary school years, when learning Indonesian, Japanese and even some German. What I found when I learnt another language was that I would subconsciously use my knowledge of another language. E.g. using Bosnian when learning Italian by using my knowledge of similar words and grammar structure. As you keep on learning any language, this flow on effect takes place. Prior knowledge of any language will make it easier for you to learn another language, it is the way the brain works. It is truly fascinating.

–          What made you decide to study two languages at the same time?

I didn’t have trouble learning Italian during high school and I enjoyed it. To be honest, I was tossing up whether I should or shouldn’t study two languages at once, especially because I am doing year 12 Bosnian. I got scared I wouldn’t do well at either language and that I would get even more confused by learning two VCE languages at once. But I was clearly more wrong than ever and keeping up Italian was the best decision I made! Rather, it made my learning of both languages much easier. Completing Year 12 Bosnian also gave me a heads up for what I am to expect next year for Italian.

–          Do you think languages could help you in your future career?

Knowing languages other than English can give you many more employment opportunities. These days many people believe, “I know English, I don’t need any other language. English is spoken everywhere.” Statistics show employers are more likely to choose you over other candidates if you know languages other than English. Funny that, my current retail employer said that a hiring point was that I know many languages, it is what they need to cater and support many shoppers in the community. Especially because Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are so similar, I can speak all and understand them fluently

–          How do you find managing your time whilst studying a subject outside of normal school hours?

Well I think it isn’t just about managing time but actively learning and incorporating that language in your everyday life. Even if it is just in your mind and not out aloud. When you have parents who are teachers they are constantly nagging you to study more for my Bosnian even though I do complete everything (ha ha ha!). I think for learning any language, it is not good to do study sessions for a flat out hour or two, because you lose interest and can’t focus. That is why it is better if you do even 15 minutes or half an hour each day. Studying is useless if you aren’t putting your skills and knowledge into practice. I study mainly on Friday night for Bosnian because it will be fresh in my mind for Saturday, but speaking about my school work and just in general at home with my mum and dad is a great studying method for me.

–          Have you ever been to Bosnia / Italy? Would you like to go?

To Italy, I have yet not been, but it is surely something I am looking into, and cannot wait for it to happen. On the other hand, to Bosnia I have been many times in my life and created many life time memories there from my toddler years through to my early teens. Bosnia is my home just as much as Australia is. It is just within, deep in my heart that I feel that deep connection, especially because 95% of my family is over there, it is my culture, my language and way of life which makes me feel that I belong over there too. There is a difference between a house and a home.

–          Would you recommend studying more than one language? Why/why not?

I think it is so sad that many people dump the opportunity of learning a language be it Italian or Indonesian, especially when it is for FREE! Many people have an “I can’t be bothered” attitude towards learning foreign languages and I think it is mainly because they think English will get them through life and it’s all they need in this world. It is also that “minimum effort” attitude people have towards education in general. Nothing in life comes to you without studying and hard work, I am sorry to break the news here. As they say, languages open many windows of opportunities for you in life. You never know where life will take you and it is in the moments you least expect that you could possibly end up using your knowledge of another language. All in all, I encourage people to study more than one language if they enjoy it and are ready to commit. It is just that people see it as hard when they haven’t even tried. You will be amazed when you start learning another language how your brain starts working and linking things like a wired circuit in your brain.

–          You are currently studying year 12 Bosnian. Are there any tips you would like to share with other year 12 students of languages?

–     Active learning is a number one tip, especially if you are still in the process of getting the gist of a language – watch movies, read articles you like, write diary entries, listen to songs, make flash-cards. This is the great thing about languages – you can easily active learn.

–     As for when it comes to Year 12 and this can also be year 11, ask your teachers for help and advice! They are your best resource. I highly recommend writing pieces of work and constantly asking your teacher to check and ask tips on how to improve and expand your vocabulary choice.

–     Make sure you get your grammar on point! Once you get grammar concepts under your sleeve learning new words based on topics and writing and utilising them will be easier.

–     The closer you get to year 12, past exam papers are your best resource and ultimately your best friend. The hardest is listening and responding because of the speed which examiners speak with,+ so I highly recommend doing a lot of those. They can be found on the VCAA website.

–     When you have the opportunity to speak in that language, speak it!

–     Oh can we say food also counts as a study tip? 😉

Good luck! In bocca al lupo! Sretno!

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