How languages changed my life: Stephanie Williams

Why learn a language? read the blog

The third blogger in our series of tales from language learning takes you with her on her year abroad in Paris. (Take a moment to dream of summer evenings walking by the Seine!) We hope these stories will help inspire your students to opt for a modern language (or two!).

  • Name: Stephanie Williams
  • University of Warwick: 1st Class BSc International Business with French, 2015
  • Languages spoken:  French and Spanish
  • Job title:  Policy Adviser at Department for Education
Year abroad Paris
Dreaming of The Seine

I studied French and Spanish up to A Level at school. I went on to study International Business with French at university and spent an amazing year abroad living in Paris.

Learning languages has:

  1. Given me one of the best years of my life living and studying in Paris
  2. Been genuinely practical on holiday in France, Spain and South America
  3. Opened up career and life opportunities – past, present and future!

Amazing year abroad experience

After studying languages at school, I chose to continue studying French as part of my degree. French was worth 20% of my degree (alongside 80% Business Studies). This meant I was able to have a year abroad in a French speaking country.

I chose to live and study in Paris as I wanted to experience living in a capital city. I also thought Paris was particularly beautiful and wanted to get to know the city as a resident rather than just a tourist. The experience was amazing.  I studied political sciences during the day and my classes were in French so it was a steep learning curve! I was busy most evenings having picnics along the river Seine, drinking red wine and exploring new areas/bars in the city – all with people who are now friends for life. Visits from my friends and family meant I had lots of mini-breaks where I was able to be a tourist and have several visits to the Eiffel Tower. Speaking French meant I was a useful translator and helped them get the most from their trips.

This experience has given me a beautiful second home and speaking the language meant I got the most out of my French.

Practical on holiday

I love going on holiday and often go to France and Spain with my family or friends. Studying French and Spanish at school teaches you how to have everyday conversation in those languages. This has been incredibly helpful when trying to order taxis, food in restaurants or communicating with my Airbnb host – particularly in less touristy places where it’s harder to get by in English! I went to Menorca recently with a friend and my Airbnb host did not speak any English. My conversational Spanish meant we got local advice on the best and quietest beaches, as well as how to avoid parking charges!

These experiences on holiday have shown me how valuable learning languages is in real life. Not only have I enjoyed being able to speak with more people generally, I’ve also enjoyed being able to understand what’s on the menu! 

Opens up career and life opportunities

I work for the UK civil service. Although my job is currently based in the UK, I am considering working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at some point in the future. Some of these jobs require you to speak a language and this means I am eligible for most French and Spanish speaking postings, such as Colombia and the Ivory Coast. Studying a language at school also demonstrates an interest in international affairs which would be helpful even for UK-based roles.

I believe that learning languages is not just about the language itself. You learn about culture and our differences and similarities, making you a more open-minded person in everyday life. I think this opens up different and exciting life opportunities, like being more willing to travel and live in different places.

Overall, I couldn’t recommend studying languages highly enough. They are fun to learn at school. They can also open up so many opportunities – in relationships, jobs, on holidays or in everyday life, like those I’ve mentioned above. A few years of language study gives you a fantastic and useful skill that will stay with you for life!

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