How learning a foreign language changed my life for the better
In the beginning
Let’s go back to Leeds in 1980 to start this story. Believe me, it really was grim up north in those days. I am a huge fan of the city of my birth and even by the early 90s when I went back there for University, it was a place transformed by regeneration. However, my memories of Leeds in the late 70s and early 80s are of overwhelming greyness and a city in decline.
My life changed completely in Spring 1980 when my family moved to Dubai. My Dad had got a new job as Sales Manager for the Arabian Gulf for the large engineering firm IMI. I was six and my sister was four when we moved. What a different life we had! So much sunshine, an introduction to Lebanese food (yum!), a swimming pool that we used almost daily and a new, private school. Jumeirah English Speaking School or JESS had modern, purpose-built classrooms and fantastic resources. I can still remember amazing school trips and so many great opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in a UK state school at that time.
One of the biggest advantages for me was that we started learning foreign languages in primary school. I started learning Arabic at the age of 7 and French at age 8. I loved learning languages from day one. Arabic less so than French, because we had a not so great teacher, but more of that later. However, despite our boring Arabic teacher, I really enjoyed using my Arabic. When we went to the souk, I could haggle for our purchases and the feeling I got when I communicated with the traders in their own language was one of pure joy. When I later started learning French, I so looked forward to every lesson.
What I was unaware of then is that learning a foreign language before the age of between ten and twelve creates permanent neurological changes that make it much easier to learn other languages FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! Sorry to shout, but it is such an important point, I need to! So many of my British friends, who only started learning languages at secondary school say things to me like, “I would love to speak another language so much, but I just find it too hard.” Well, you know what? That’s probably a direct result of them not having the chance to learn foreign languages young enough to stop that neural pathway from closing.
The joy of communication
I so enjoy being able to speak to people in their own language. You don’t have to be fluent to communicate. Just a few words or the basics creates such goodwill and goes a long way to creating a connection. I truly believe that you never really get under the skin of another country and culture unless you speak the language. The feeling you get when you can make yourself understood is very special, as is the look of happy surprise on people’s faces when they realise you have taken the time and trouble to speak some of their language.
Making the most of it
Fast forward to 2012. I had my first child in 2011 and was looking to start a business so that I could work flexibly around family life. My career had mostly been in Marketing and particularly PR until that point. I had often used my languages at work, but not as much as I would have liked. I had studied French and Italian at University and also spoke several other languages to a greater or lesser degree by this point. It was really important to me to do something that brought something positive to the world and giving more kids the opportunity to learn a language strongly appealed. My parents lived in Mandarin-speaking Singapore for seven years and I had really enjoyed learning about Chinese culture and making friends with Chinese Singaporeans. I kept hearing about how Mandarin was the language of the future and how the government said that a lack of Mandarin speakers is holding the UK back, even now, and I wanted to do something about that. So, Little Dragons was born. I did lots of research and one of the things that I kept on hearing was that it was incredibly difficult to find great Mandarin teachers. I definitely found this to be the case. There were quite a lot of random Mandarin Chinese speakers offering lessons, but many struggled in a British classroom environment to keep discipline for cultural reasons. Also, time and again I heard that a lot of Mandarin teachers gave lessons that were boring and put kids off for life! As someone whose life has been directly shaped by learning foreign languages at a young age in a positive, joyful way, I had found my mission.
Spreading the joy
Remember my Arabic teacher in Dubai? I could totally relate to what people were saying to me about boring Mandarin lessons and ineffective teachers. I decided that Little Dragons would make learning Mandarin fun and that we would only ever use great teachers. The very last thing that I would ever want is to put children off learning languages.
When I met David Jones (DJ Mandarin) in early 2016, I knew that we could do something special together. David is a UK Qualified Teacher and as such is registered with the UK government. He has great experience of teaching in schools, including implementing a Mandarin programme at prestigious Brighton College Prep School. David is a fun and engaging teacher with an excellent and thorough training in pedagogy and a love of Chinese language and culture to boot. David lived in China for several years and is the perfect person to teach kids of non-Chinese heritage Mandarin.
My dream is for Little Dragons to give children the opportunity to learn another language in a fun and effective way and to create a lifelong love of Chinese language and culture. Learning other languages has shaped my life in such a positive way and I want to share that joy as far and wide as possible.
If you would like to give your child the lifelong benefit of learning Mandarin, you can check out our courses here.
To celebrate the launch of our new 90 Day Family Intensive Mandarin Course – perfect for future expats or people holidaying in China – we are giving a 25% discount in June 2017 only. Use code LAUNCH1 here to get the course for just £395 and start your family’s Mandarin journey with a bang!