Katya shares five surprising things she learned at the Language Academy.
I decided to sign up for the Language Academy for the first time two years ago because I wanted to experience immersion learning in Mandarin. I was especially excited to learn Mandarin with other people my age, because I learn with a one-on-one tutor during the school year. The first few days were somewhat of an adjustment, but I was always supported by great R.A.s and teachers, who knew the challenges of speaking in language. Here are five surprising things I discovered about learning to speak another language at the Academy:
1. When You’re Immersed in a Language, You Pick It Up Faster
By the end of the first week, it seemed natural to be conducting all of my daily activities speaking Mandarin. My favorite part of the daily schedule was afternoon activities, which often incorporated Chinese culture and allowed us to cement new vocabulary.
2. Even Beginners Can Learn to Speak a Language Through Immersion
Don’t be scared! While it is a challenge, the Academy is designed to be fun. It’s for people with any level of language proficiency, and as long as you follow the Language Pledge, it’s impossible to leave without seeing improvement. Even the presentations at assembly—the thing that made me most anxious about attending the Academy at first—eventually became something I looked forward to every night.
3. You Will Make Friendships in Another Language
What I found most surprising about the Academy was the amazing friendships I made in language. Through my living group, language classes and daily activities, I made friends that I still keep in touch with now, more than a year later! Even though everyone had their own goals for language learning, we all shared a common interest in progressing our language skills that made the Academy environment supportive and encouraging.
4. Confidence is More Important Than Perfect Grammar
I learned how much more important it is to be confident in your speaking abilities than to have perfect grammatical skills. The teachers at the Academy really encourage students to speak as much as possible and to not be afraid to make mistakes, which can be a contrast to language learning in high school. Though students do receive teacher evaluations, they’re meant only to help guide your progress; there’s no pressure to achieve a certain grade.
5. Learning to Speak Another Language is Addicting—and Opens Up New Opportunities
After my first year at the Academy, I was almost sure that I wanted to study Mandarin in college, and my second year has only made me more passionate about continuing my language learning. Right now, I am working on establishing a volunteer program with my school to teach children in Toronto basic Mandarin, a project inspired by one of my friends I met at the Academy this summer. I’m also hoping I’ll be able to go on a study abroad trip to China or Taiwan in the next few years to experience the culture firsthand.