I’ve just written a guest post about how to help your child learn a second language. It’s for One Third Stories, whose subscription-based Story Boxes are designed for kids aged 4-9 and delivered by post for £12.49 per month. More importantly though, they’re brilliant.
I blogged about their whirlwind kickstarter campaign a while back, and I’ve been following their journey to fully-fledged business ever since. A couple of weeks ago my 4-year-old tested out their latest Story Box, and you can find out what we made of it over on the One Third Stories blog.
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, though, I’m not your average ambassador of foreign languages. I’m not multilingual, or even bilingual for that matter. I’ll be honest: I have a rusty GCSE in Italian to my name and not a lot else.
And yet, that rusty, neglected and almost-forgotten GCSE became – in some small way – my ticket to a career as a travel writer and blogger. I’m no Bill Bryson, but it’s a job that still pays the bills to this day, more than 15 years after I waved goodbye to Italian in the classroom.
And it’s why, despite the fact I’m embarrassingly monolingual, I’m keen for my own kids to learn a second language. Let me explain a little bit…
An accidental travel writer
It all started a decade back, when I was working for a magazine. An opportunity came up to review a festival in Florence and, as I’d once mentioned I’d done Italian at school, I got the trip. That initial trip led to another, this time in Lyon. I’d also done a bit of French pre-GCSEs, and it turned out those basic words were still, somehow, floating around in my head.
Much to my surprise, I got myself around each city on my own (pronouncing everything really badly, but still) and realised I really quite liked it. And with a bit of boosted confidence in travelling solo and putting my very limited language skills to use, I found myself covering events all over the world – from Finland to Abu Dhabi.
A blog for the not-so-well-travelled
With a few travel clippings added to my portfolio, I got a job as a copywriter for a travel company. I wrote about travel day in, day out, and planned some holidays of my own. When I had my little boy, I started this blog about our family holidays (and the shell-shock that was being at home on maternity leave, of course). We took our first holiday abroad – to Italy again – when he was nine months old. And boy was it a different kettle of fish to travelling on my own.
That was four years ago now, and since then I’ve moved into freelance writing, 80% of which is travel-related. I’m still not remotely well-travelled, and I still can’t speak a second language. But it turns out you don’t have to be an avid explorer or a polyglot to really quite like going on holiday.
A little bit of language goes a long way
We’ve done a few more trips to Italy and the Italian islands, including an incredible religious festival in Sicily that the kids still talk about now. And this year we’re planning our biggest trip yet: a road trip back to the agriturismo we first visited when my son was a baby, this time with both kids in tow.
As an avid reader of ‘proper’ travel blogs, I’m acutely aware that a two-week European road trip is small-fry compared to the epic journeys lots of families take. But for us, a couple of weeks navigating our way across a foreign country with two pre-schoolers and a Sat Nav is a big deal. And it’s not something I would even have attempted without that basic knowledge of Italian under my belt.
The point I’m trying to get to, in a very long-winded way, is that you don’t have to be fluent in a foreign language for it to open up doors. Taking a beginner’s language class, or listening to a One Third Stories audiobook with your kids, could be the springboard to an experience you would never have considered, a conversation you would never have started, or a door you simply would never have knocked on otherwise.
Don’t hold fluency up as the be-all and end-all when it comes to languages. Because even the very basics of another language – rusty GCSEs included – could completely change your life.