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Clare O'Toole, Law with Spanish student

photo of Clare O'Toole

My name is Clare O’Toole. I was a CISS Scholar from 2015-2016 and I am now a Law with Spanish student at the University of Glasgow. I study Mandarin in addition to my university course, through classes at the University of Strathclyde, run by CISS.

What languages have you learned?

At the end of primary school I started learning Spanish and continued that all the way through school to Advanced Higher. In sixth year, I crashed Higher French and National 4 Mandarin. During sixth year, I won a scholarship through the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools to study Mandarin in Tianjin for a year.

How have language skills helped you?woman speaking at lecturn

When studying a language, you are always encouraged to speak it as much as you can. This has really helped with my confidence. Speaking to anyone, particularly natives of your foreign language, in a language that you are not completely comfortable in can be daunting and takes a bit of courage. This has made me more outgoing and a much better public speaker which helps me in my Law career when I participate in moots.

What benefits do you think language skills bring?

The biggest benefit for me personally is being able to connect with people from other countries and cultures. Particularly when I was living in China, with my Thai and Vietnamese classmates Mandarin was world languagesour language in common, not English, so knowing a language other than English helped me makes friends all over the world.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering learning a language?

The best advice is just to throw yourself into it. Sometimes, especially if a language sounds completely different to your own like Mandarin, the pronunciation or tones will be weird but don’t be afraid of sounding silly and just try. Also, do not be put off by languages that are perceived as “too difficult”. All languages have their difficult elements but all languages also have elements that you will understand and pick up easily.

Any tips on how best to approach communicating in a new language?woman holding cellphone

If you can learn basics like “hello”, “goodbye”, “yes”, “no” and “do you want” it will help you go a lot further in your conversation than you think. Also, do not underestimate gestures, they can be extremely helpful. If you are going to a country where you do not speak much of the language, I highly recommend downloading the many free dictionary apps and if you’re really struggling you can look up a particular word and show it to them on your phone.

In your experience, would you say cultural awareness is important?

rice bowl and chopsticksI would say that cultural awareness is very important. It really helps in making friends with people from other cultures. In China, one of my Chinese friends told me that going out to eat is a very social activity in China and you speak for the entirety of the meal. Going out for a meal can last hours. It is important to know aspects of culture like this so that you don’t appear rude. Similarly, when visiting the country cultural awareness helps you fit in more and have a much more pleasant time. In this day and age with the world so well-connected learning languages and cultural awareness are necessary to be a global citizen.

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