Sarah Barrett from Lingotastic runs language classes for children and families, using music, crafts, puppets and bubbles – it sounds so much fun we might have to go and check it out ourselves! Here’s Sarah’s language story…
On my first visit to Germany to visit my husband Maik’s parents, I had a few language misunderstandings.
One day we were in Große Straße in Osnabrück and I had to ask Maik what a travelling Bratwurst (“Riesenbratwurst”) was… it actually said “Reisenbratwurst”, which means giant Bratwurst. So I still don’t know what a travelling Bratwurst is.
A few years later I was at church in Germany listening to the preacher. I could not understand why he was talking so much about toast… he was actually talking about trost (an old German word for “comfort”)!
Maik and I got married in Germany, but they didn’t believe I understood what was going on, so we had to have a translator!
When my youngest daughter started school (two years ago), I set up some language classes for families as Lingotastic. As a busy mum, language learning hadn’t been a priority for a long time, but we had passed on German and French to our children, and I wanted to encourage other families to do this too. At Lingotastic we have six weeks of French, German or Spanish. We use simple songs, crafts, a story, puppets and bubbles to help little ones to tune into that language. It was tricky for me at first to separate the languages, but it came with practice.
I then wanted a challenge, so as a family we learned a bit of Mandarin and some Mandarin songs. We then delivered a class in the local library and also in my daughter’s school reception class.
We heard about the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge at Easter and my daughters thought they might like to join in. They learned a lot of Portuguese through playing the simple games. Then in the summer we heard EuroTalk were doing an Esperanto challenge, using the uTalk app. We really enjoyed it and had a few simple conversations in Esperanto around the dinner table. A few months ago my daughter asked why gato and gâteau are not the same thing, and said maybe we should have a gato gateau!
I love to greet people in their native language and people are often really happy to teach you how. I can often say good morning in up to five languages whilst walking my children to school!
Language learning only works for me if I can see a purpose. I love to get to know others and language learning is a great way to do this. I love to learn languages by playing apps like uTalk, playing with FlashSticks and singing along to songs in other languages.
If you want to follow our language learning journey check out www.Lingotastic.co.uk/blog
Sarah works as a Multilingual Search Manager at Search Laboratory, and she’s taken time out to tell us why and how learning a language has helped her develop her career.
Q. Your experience of learning a language…
– When did you start?
I started learning another language at the age of seven, when my family moved to Germany. I often say that I learnt the language by watching TV, but it was actually a combination of listening (which did involve TV), reading (mainly as schoolwork gave me no choice – I wasn’t the bookworm then that I am today), and being thrown in the deep end. If there’s no other communication option around you, you will pick up a language. It just might take some time.
– How did you get into languages?
I got into it through video tapes for children designed to help learn a second language, and then through tuition and being surrounded by the language in everyday life. For the first six months of living in Germany I went to an English school, but then transferred to a German one, so speaking the language was a must for grades, making friends, and just generally communicating.
– What was hard?
The first few months were pretty tricky. I’m known as a bit of a chatter-box (this is likely to come across in my answers), so not being able to communicate was tough, but also an incentive to just try the language and learn by doing. The best way to learn a language is to speak it. It’s also the scariest thing about learning a language.
These days the main challenge is remembering the right word for the right language. With two languages buzzing in my head, I can often recall the perfect word for what I want to say, but in the wrong language for the situation.
Q. How you have found being multilingual useful when searching for employment and building a career?
Being multilingual has been very useful for my career, as it’s given me more options, and I think it’s also helped me stand out a bit in the employment crowd. This was especially true when I was younger, and just starting out. Though multilingual isn’t as unusual as you think these days.
It was also a way for me to narrow down my career search. I knew that I wanted to be part of a company that provided opportunities for multilingual speakers, and was equally interested in different cultures and understanding different markets.
Q. How do you use languages in your everyday role as a Multilingual Search Marketing Manager?
I manage our French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Chinese team, so the language alone doesn’t help out; however, the language experience is vital. I feel that because I went through learning a language and living in a different country that I’m more empathetic to and understanding of the struggles of day to day life (or at least some of them – the team may disagree).
I also think that the language experience has made me very inquisitive about other cultures, and languages, which really comes in handy when looking into the differences of search behaviour and trends in other markets.
Q. Why do you think more people should learn more languages?
Because it’s great fun! And because it can open up career opportunities that you hadn’t even thought of yet.
I sometimes forget that I’m classed as multilingual as having more than one language is natural to me, to my family, and most of the people I work with. I think I’d be pretty bored if I only had one language to rely on.
Also, looking back and seeing all the opportunities I might have missed out on, is a bit of a scary thought.
I’m excited to learn more languages, though can’t decide of the languages which my team speaks, which one to start with. There’s just too much choice!
Do you use languages at work? Have you found knowing more than one language has helped you in your career?
I see myself as a moderately well-travelled person, having visited most of Europe, Hong Kong, Japan and the southern states in the USA. Many memories are made on each trip, whether they are about trying strange food, meeting friendly locals or even having the odd moment of hilarity – but one thing I always find is that confusion crops up about my ethnic appearance. I’m not even sure if it’s in a good or bad way.
I’m a British Born Chinese, speak English fluently and studied Spanish at university, so I am pretty comfortable with visiting most parts of the world. I don’t have any qualms about learning even more languages, if it helps me get by. But my appearance seems to evoke different…. responses.
For instance, a short conversation while getting coffee at a gas-stop in New Mexico left a cashier confused when she said I (apparently) spoke like the Queen. Flip side to this: during a night out in Acuña, Mexico, a bartender was surprised to be able to talk to me in great detail about how film director Robert Rodriguez used his tavern to film a part of his feature Desperado, as I was the only one who could speak and understand Spanish – something that also helped make a complaint about a dirty and unmade hotel room in Las Vegas.
A weird occurrence was when a tourist wanted a picture taken with me during a visit with friends to the Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen. The reason? He had never seen a Chinese person before.
Multiculturalism is growing everyday and so more people are becoming accustomed to different ways of life. But there are parts of the world that are not so used to ethnic diversity, and particularly given Asians’ distinctive appearance, seeing someone different walk through the door will always have that element of surprise. Even more so if that person can talk and understand you – that always raises a smile… or perhaps a furrowed brow.
Do you find yourself surprising people on your travels with your linguistic abilities? Or have you met someone who catches you unawares by conversing in your native tongue?