Languages are by far the hardest degrees

No, you can’t just Google Translate it


You see us languages students.  Waltzing around campus with Cervantes’ complete works under our arms as we stop to say a quick ‘hola’ or ‘ça va?’ to the latest crop of Erasmus students that we’ve so casually bonded with over the last few weeks.

Yet underneath our fading tans from our recent stint as an au pair in Valencia, we are in fact carrying the burdens of one of the hardest degrees out there.

And before you ask, no, languages degrees are not just about sitting in classrooms talking in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese or what have you.  Actually speaking languages only makes up a tiny percentage in comparison to what else we have to do.

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Harry Potter en français totally counts as revision

Listening exercises for example are prone to causing us unnecessary stress, as we tune our ears attempting to hear exactly what it was that Marco had ‘per la sua colazione’. 

There is only one way to describe grammar and that is hell. Never have our minds worked so hard as we try to work out whether a word is masculine of feminine, and despite it ending in an A, it turns out to be one of those pesky irregulars.  Correctly putting in object pronouns and negatives into a sentence is like working out a maths equation, and we long for the days when we eventually crack the subjunctive. Remember guys, it’s not a tense, it’s a mood, whatever the bloody hell that’s supposed to mean. 

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It weighs the same as a child

And let’s not get started on translation.  ‘Make it sound English’ are the words that are constantly drilled into our brains as we translate endless phrases into english along with the help our best friend Word Reference, as we slowly begin to question our own knowledge of the english language.  And no, I shan’t dare talk about translation into another language.

On numerous occasions are we put down by our returning written work, seeing it covered in red pen, correcting our countless missing accents and crossing out words that we’ve accidentally written in Spanish because today, our brains just aren’t tuned to thinking in French.

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So much red pen

And that’s the other thing, those who study more than one language have it even harder, having to deal with all of the above, in two (or more) different languages.  An average day of a joint honours student consists of switching between languages every hour.  The struggle is particularly real in conversation classes.  I know you’ve just asked me to talk about Berlusconi’s legacy in Italian, but I’ve just come from two hours of French, so have it in that instead. 

On top of the added pressure of having to email your lecturers even the most simple of questions in their language otherwise they won’t reply, is the endless competition about ‘who is more fluent’.  The top spots dominated by those who spent their gap year learning Spanish in Colombia whilst simultaneously building a school, or the smug few who have native speaking parents and have actually been bilingual since birth.  It’s alright for some.

Our course however doesn’t stop there.  For on top of our language modules we have cultural modules, where we learn everything there is to learn about France’s colonial empire or the Spanish civil war, and probably read just as many books as an English Literature student, having to embed quotes into our essay in a given language. 

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Good forbid if you ever have to read The Divine Comedy…

We are consistently doing some sort of coursework, and are forever keeping on top of grammar.  But all of this hard work is worth it, for we not only come out with a degree, but also with a skill.  Our language knowledge has come a long way since the GSCE days of ‘je joue au foot avec mon frère’, extending to now being able to overhear conversations on the tube and joking around with natives without you having the faintest idea what is going on.