English has always been my favourite foreign language. Having lived in Australia as a toddler, I got into contact with it very early and it has been fascinating to me ever since. There was a gap between the age of four and thirteen when I wasn’t really speaking or writing English as I had left Australia and as it wasn’t taught in Swiss schools at that age. But as soon as I picked it up again, I rediscovered the language and the joy it brings me.
In high school, I realised how much I enjoy working with German and English, and signing up for studies in those languages was an easy choice. I enjoyed working with English literature, linguistics and language: not only is it rather easy for me and I therefore feel secure speaking and writing it, it is also connected to interesting cultures and an extremely high amount of people.
In my stay abroad, it has been very easy to communicate because of my experience with the language. Especially in the student village in Canterbury where I lived, everyone speaks English, so it was our main means of communication. I have experienced situations in which I lacked the exact vocabulary, but overcoming this problem is not hard at all. My Californian housemate and I had many conversations and discussions and it was always very easy for her to figure out quickly what I meant and wanted to say. Very often, I just described what I meant or used synonyms and she always knew what I wanted to tell her. Sometimes, I had to elaborate a little further, but we never had any bigger issues in terms of understanding.
The only thing that thoroughly challenged me was the effortless switching of languages. I was in contact with Italians, French people, Belgians and Germans, and switching between German (which in some ways is also not my main mother tongue), French and even Italian was at times pretty difficult. I caught myself saying English filler words like “like” in German conversations or responding to French people in English with “Yes” or “No”.
My time abroad has mainly made me aware of the gaping holes I still have in my vocabulary. I felt pretty secure in my language abilities before going abroad, and I feel like I improved well, but I also feel like the improvement has not been as great as it was in the phase between high school and university. I am pretty sure though that I will see rather quickly how much my English has improved and how differently I now speak once I am back at the University of Bern, as my studies will have me speaking and writing in English again next term.
English to me is not only an important language in order to be able to communicate with people worldwide. It also opens doors for a vast amount of countries and their cultures. Being able to speak English properly and not just partially has allowed me to be part of a community and to be able to follow discussions whilst also partaking in them. This would have been very hard had I not understood my counterparts fully. I am looking forward to spending time in English speaking countries in the future, especially knowing how nice it can be when people talk to you as if you were one of their own.