Learning a language is like weight-training for the brain

HOW often have you resorted to the internet to translate text, only to end up with a paragraph that, while it is just about decipherable, is strewn with errors and written in a manner far removed from the conventional style? Or studied a sign or menu while abroad, only to give up and ask for the English version instead?

Andrew Picot teaches French and Spanish
Andrew Picot teaches French and Spanish

Despite the fact that Islanders are regular and adventurous travellers – and that France is visible without even leaving our shores – our knowledge of foreign languages leaves us woefully behind many of our European counterparts.

Indeed, as Andrew Picot of Complete Languages Tuition & Services – Jersey says, only half of all Islanders achieved grade C or higher in a foreign language at GCSE level, something which he says is not helped as studying a foreign language to this standard is only compulsory at four of the Island’s nine secondary schools. Despite this situation, he says that 80% of students who have taken their GCSEs in the past couple of years (excluding last year’s teacher-assessed exams) did achieve a grade C or higher.

And, having discovered a fascination with languages at an early age, Mr Picot is keen to share his linguistic love with anyone from students and business people to Islanders who have second homes, or travel extensively, abroad.

‘When I was a child, my grandparents had a farm where they often welcomed French guests and we also had a lot of family holidays in France so I was often immersed in that language,’ explained the former De La Salle College student, who went on to study both French and Spanish at Exeter University.

‘As part of my degree course, I spent a year at a university in Granada, which was a brilliant opportunity not just to practise my Spanish but also to see the blend of Moorish, Jewish and Christian cultures in the area,’ he said.

Graduating without a clear career plan, Mr Picot continued his linguistic focus in Costa Rica, teaching English as a Foreign Language, before putting his teaching skills further to the test with a stint in China.

‘By Chinese standards, I was based in quite a small city but there were very few westerners and the locals spoke very little English. As I had no prior grasp of either the language or culture, I really was thrown in at the deep end so I relied on immersing myself in the language and, after six months, I could hold a basic conversation.’

Returning to Jersey, Mr Picot taught English at St Brelade’s College before embarking on a teacher training programme, something which he combined with a role teaching French and Spanish at Victoria College. However, after six years, a desire to develop his own language skills further saw him leave the Island’s shores once more.

‘While I had lived in Spain and travelled quite extensively through Latin America, I had never, with the exception of one summer season, lived in a French-speaking country so I decided to spend some time in France to enhance my knowledge of the language,’ he explained.

Spending time in both Agon-Coutainville – the French town with which his home parish of Trinity is twinned – and in Caen, Mr Picot worked as an English assistant in local schools, while also undertaking some translation and proofreading assignments.

After terms in France, home beckoned once more and, as he considered his next career move, Mr Picot saw the potential to launch his own language school.

‘I could see that there was a niche for a private enterprise, encouraging as many Islanders as possible to learn a language at a time and pace that suited them. Working outside the mainstream education system also gave me the freedom to develop tailored lessons based on each individual’s personality, goals and interests. Do they, for example, want help with preparing for exams or school assignments? Are they negotiating business deals with people overseas? Or do they just want conversational skills to help them make the most of their holidays?’

Thus inspired, Mr Picot collated a range of audio-visual and interactive materials, which support his teaching techniques.

‘It is not just about understanding the words of a language but also about deepening intercultural awareness and empathy,’ he explained. ‘Learning a language is beneficial in so many ways. If you are in a business environment, the ability to speak multiple languages sets you apart from the competition at the shortlisting and second interview stages, demonstrating not only linguistic skills but also analytical, problem-solving and communication strengths. It also highlights your cultural sensitivity and versatility which can enhance negotiation – convening with clients in their own language automatically gives you an advantage – and also broaden secondment and sabbatical opportunities.

‘As well as leading towards roles in teaching, tourism and translation, a second language enriches careers in everything from law and engineering to politics, economics journalism and marketing. ’

Outside the office, Mr Picot says that learning a second language also brings significant wellbeing benefits.

‘Just as pumping weights can help to tone your body, so learning a language can stimulate the brain and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It also helps to improve general concentration and memory retention and develop multi-tasking abilities.’

And, while coronavirus restrictions may have curtailed many activities, Mr Picot’s French and Spanish lessons can be followed online.

‘During the first lockdown, most of my students transferred to online learning. Since then, further clients have joined, partly because it is convenient for them to log on from the comfort of their own home. It’s also an activity which, by sharing an online class with a partner or friend, can become a social event. And why not take it further and immerse yourself more deeply in the culture by cooking using foreign recipes, following online fitness classes led by non-English trainers or joining virtual choirs from other countries.

‘You can also develop a social network of contacts from other countries and build friendships while practising the language. If you need further reasons to learn a language, I recommend reading Babbel’s online article, 21 Reasons To Learn A Language in 2021.’

Encouraging anyone from Key Stage 2 children and students who have just completed January mock exams to retirees to discover the joy of learning a language, Mr Picot offers a complimentary taster lesson and consultation.

More details are available from the Complete Languages Tuition & Services – Jersey page on Facebook or by calling Mr Picot on 07797 833368 or emailing Picot.AJB@gmail.com.

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