I’m not sure when my love of language really began. It was early. My mother was an English teacher and taught French when I was younger. With both parents teachers, we spent a week every summer driving down through France to camp in Spain for a few weeks before taking another week to drive back. I was surrounded by a million dialects and accents during those summers: French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Italian, Czech, Swedish, Swiss… the list goes on. Every year I would go to kids club where a talented number of supervisors would introduce what we were going to do – inevitably play a game of mini golf or create some kind of pasta and glue masterpiece – in about 6 languages before we began. I was fascinated. I remember telling my mother more than once that I hated only being able to speak one language. Why couldn’t I speak them all? Why couldn’t I communicate with everyone around the world just by opening my mouth?
One memory that stays strong in my mind was another kids ‘mini club’ activity that was like a treasure hunt. I was about 9 and running around the campsite with a couple of other girls – hitting the beach bar, the pool, the tennis courts looking for clues. My companions, Sara and Miriam were bi-lingual. Their mother was French but they lived in Wimbledon. We arrived at the bakery. We were looking for the next clue but were having no luck so we decided to ask somebody. ‘We’re looking for a piece of paper,’ Miriam, the younger sister, said to the Spanish woman who worked behind the counter. She looked at us blankly, clearly not understanding English, so Miriam just switched: ‘Francais?’ The woman nodded. ‘Ok,’ Miriam continued, ‘Est-ce que vous avez du papier?’. I was in awe. Here she was, 8 years old and from England, yet speaking perfect French. The woman passed us a piece of paper used to wrap baguettes. Not exactly what we were looking for, so we had to continue on our way. It may not have been a successful exchange but it was one that stuck with me for life.
I don’t want to get political but it is these kinds of experiences and memories that make me proud to be European. Europe is a place filled with so many different cultures and languages. This is why Brexit makes me sad – because I don’t want Europe to think that we don’t want to be European anymore. I understand the issues within the EU, but I love what it stands for – a united Europe.
Nowadays, I am fluent in Spanish and so proud of that. I studied languages at university. I have lived in Spain and Costa Rica and often speak and think in Spanish even now. That fluency came from living in those places. I wish my French was as strong but I never put it into practice so I don’t have the confidence that I do with Spanish. I still love hearing people speak different languages. I don’t think that will ever change. And I will always want to understand more and communicate better. I just love it.