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Let Me Persuade You to Learn a Second Language

October 20, 2018

When I was around six or seven, I was gifted a Miscellany- an anthology of hundreds of random facts that nobody probably really cares for. I, unlike many others, was very taken by it indeed. I would learn the facts and recite them to my friends, my family and probably even the dogs. 16 years later and old habits die hard- I still love me a good, random fact. So here’s one to blow your socks off- in the world right now, there exists approximately 7097 languages across 195 countries. That’s just an approximation because that number is constantly growing; we’re constantly discovering new languages- be it an ancient tongue in Greece or the language of a tribe who had ceased to make contact with the outside world.

Of those 7097, I’m fluent in three and have dipped my toes into about four or five more (survival proficiency, nothing more.) Now, I’m not saying that all 7097 are relevant for my every day live, especially as the Perato principle sees that the top 20 languages are spoken by 80% of the world. (Suddenly, I feel a bit better about only speaking 3 of 7097.) Yet, ask yourself, how many of the top 20 languages do you speak? By speaking only one of those languages, surely you’re closing yourself off to 80% of the world. Sure, yes, I know most people speak good English, but I cannot emphasise enough how much learning a language can change you.

In-between questioning if socks are just portable carpets and wondering if a spoon is just a small bowl, the most meaningful shower thought I had the other day was on the topic of languages. It is also the reason I was inspired to write this post. I began questioning if some of the life changing words you are to destined speak aren’t meant to be spoken in English (or native tongue)? What if one day, your most meaningful “I love you” is in French, or the first words you speak to your new born are in Spanish? What if the most powerful hellos and hardest goodbyes are in Russian? Your child/ grandchild might even grow up with a different mother tongue than you did!

My other half is Dutch. His English is impeccable (I thought he was from Chicago when we first met almost three years ago) but let me tell you, my Dutch ain’t so bad either. In fact, one of my initial flirting techniques included a Dutch word attack whereupon I showered him with basic food items of which I’d learnt in supermarkets, awfully bad swear words that cheeky Dutch friends had taught me (hands up if you know what 'neuken in de keuken' means!) and downright random words which I’d picked up from working in a bar in a French resort. (In reality, I couldn’t say much more than “you’re a turtle. Can I have a straw please? Mmm tasty ice cream.” but whatever, I tried.) So, with my Dutch leaving a lot to be desired, it’s his English proficiency which has allowed us to be what we are. Going back to my shower thought, I don’t suppose he ever grew up thinking that he needed to learn English in order to communicate with the woman of his dreams (cough, me, cough.)

Nowadays, we communicate in both English and Spanish, depending on the situation, and I am even learning Dutch, despite if it giving my tongue a hernia. Do I need to learn Dutch? Absolutely not. However, whilst learning a language indeed permits you to communicate with people from other nations, it also sees you develop a new personality in each tongue, and therefore, by learning Dutch, I get to learn a little more about Bob’s native character.  I know- this all sounds very dramatic but it dawned on me when I became fluent in Spanish. Allow me to explain further... when speaking English, I have a very polite personality; I’m sarcastic and I consider myself to be calm and understanding. When speaking Spanish, however, I don’t butter my parsnips. I am much more passionate and I’m admittedly a lot cheekier; I don’t hold back.

From what I can understand when he speaks Dutch, Bob is a lot more childish, cheekier also and startlingly more direct than he is in English. (The things he says at home- I’d have had a smacked bottom!) I love just watching him communicate with his parents and discovering new depths to his character. What I’m getting at is, by learning his language I get to unravel his character layer by layer just like an onion (“Onions have layers!” for the Shrek fans out there.) The tongue with which you speak has the ability to alter your personality drastically- don’t worry, it’s not as if you’ll turn into Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Admittedly, this character development takes a whole lot of time and even more patience but you will stop being the inevitably shy and bumbling foreigner (though people do adore bumbling Brits) and you’ll transform into something that’s slightly foreign to your original self. Perhaps you’ll start gesticulating more and more when speaking Italian, or maybe, for the foreign readers out there who are learning English, you’ll find yourself more introverted -English is an introverted language and harder to speak after all! What’s funny is that I’ve just realised I even give a variation of my name when I speak different languages- I no longer insist on ‘May-ah’ but willingly introduce myself as ‘My-ah’ in Spanish and French. Maybe 'Myah' is my alter-ego…

On a final note, I remember in my old French classroom at school, there was this proverb on the wall that compared being a monoglot to locking yourself in one room of a mansion- just think about how much of the world, how many people you’re locking out by speaking only one language. Just think about how many people you could meet, how much you could learn by just stepping out of your comfort zone and learning 20% of a foreign language. It could change your life.

We Need to Talk About Depression- Part 1, Where it All Began

September 17, 2017

Allow me to start from the very beginning...

On a Thursday November morning, I sleepily swatted the alarm on my phone to snooze whilst glancing at the screen, one eye probably still closed. 7.00am. My alarm rang as it habitually would on a work day. It was winter and my flat was bitterly cold so the urge to burrow myself inside my duvet and hide from the outside world wasn't foreign. What followed five minutes later were puddles meandering from my lashes to my lips and panic washing over my body like the tide beating the shore. I looked around the walls of my bedroom- the colour of storm clouds, threatening and angry and I felt alone in the world. Tucked away in a tiny apartment in an unknown street of Ourense, the worth of my existence hit me...

I was a loner. Nobody loved me. I was a burden. I was stupid. People pitied me.

My chest tightened and I struggled to find air. I was choking on my own breath and panic flooded my system. Self-depreciating thoughts fuelled my tears and the taste of salt stung my lips. Minutes passed, each becoming more bearable than the last, and finally, after what felt like a lifetime, I summoned the courage to leave my duvet haven and get ready for the day. Duty called and I hoped my students would distract me. The next two hours were a blur and when my colleague asked if I was okay, I broke down again.

Days like that became the norm over the next four months. I spent December in Australia calling home and crying, feeling cast away on an asteroid. In my heart, I knew I had everything anybody could want and more. In fact, when my friend Emily came to visit me in April, I recounted my struggles to her. They left her dumbfounded... "But you have the perfect life... I see it on your Instagram." she stumbled. I was living the life I had always dreamed of but I felt as if I were frozen in a block of ice; I knew people were trying to chisel away at the prison I was encased in but to no avail. I felt cold and alone. My heart longed to feel the embraces from the people around me but I'd been trapped and nothing could penetrate that distance between the world and I. Slowly, I start backing away from society- I stop accepting invitations to social engagements, I burrow myself away at home and days pass when I only speak when spoken to. Let's remember that I'm living away from my family- the people who know me inside out. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m still alive. A mould has grown and made my soul home and I’m hopeless to fight it.

Let's skip forward three months... It's February and I have to go to England due to a family emergency. Here, I visit a doctor and he prescribes me with a daily dose of Sertraline. 50mg. An alarm rings through my head as I recall stories of feeling akin to a zombie, the stigma surrounding antidepressants and the supposed addiction. Am I crazy? Aren't antidepressants for depressed people? Like, seriously depressed people? It was my Mum who reassured me that it was fine, "a low dosage, nothing to worry about" are her soothing words. Mother knows best. I swallowed my first pill.

There are a few misunderstandings/ misconceptions about antidepressants-

1. They’re only for the desperate.

A huge percentage of people are on them. In 2016, 64.7 million antidepressants were prescribed on the NHS according to NHS Digital. A decade ago, it was half that amount. They are the medicinal area with the largest increase in prescriptions of 2016. I say that this speaks volumes about the mental state of the UK and how we are tackling this problem as a nation.

2. Taking anti-depressants is a sign of weakness.

There’s this horribly judgemental idea that antidepressants are the easy way out. “Keep your pills, you just need fresh air and exercise” I see incessantly on supposedly inspirational Facebook posts. I know these people mean well but seriously, fuck off. Believe me when I tell you that they are not a quick fix (see next paragraph). Of course lying in my bed all day is going to do nothing for me, but trivialising my illness by suggesting that I'm just in need of a few laps around the park is insulting.

Don't be That person.
If there was a way to just flick that small switch off in my brain with a tiny pill, damn right I’d do it... You're committing yourself to a treatment that could last a month, a year or even a decade whereupon chemicals are pumped into your brain on a daily basis... and let's not even think about the side effects! And by the way, it's not even a hundred percent certain that they will help.

3. You’re instantly going to feel better.

I remember seeing an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa was prescribed some anti-depressants and she just started seeing smiley faces and rainbows. Whilst sometimes, our favourite fictional family can indeed teach us some life lessons, this isn’t one of them. On my particular drug, Sertraline, things have to get worse before they can get better. And boy, did they get worse...

I was already having up to eight panic attacks a day. I had to completely cut out caffeine and chocolate (as if life wasn’t already hard enough!) for fear of a sudden attack in the street. Sertraline made me feel suicidal. I’d wake up some mornings wondering if I had any type of medicine in my cupboard that could end it all. I feel so ashamed to type those words which I suppose is a sure sign that I’ve come a long way.

Two weeks later and those thoughts were gone, but I felt devoid of emotion still. I’d still find myself crying for no reason but less frequently, my panic attacks were just an ugly memory now and I no longer woke up wondering why I was still here. Yet, life was floating past me, like a boat on the current, but I was just grateful that I no longer felt like I wanted to end it all.

There’s this nasty and unwelcome opinion fluttering around society that suicide is the coward’s option. Depression is a parasite that hides itself in your brain, feeding on your happiness until there’s no more left to absorb and before you even can realise, you’ve been consumed by it. It’s a parasite that can make anybody’s soul habitable- I believe it’s imperative to understand, as a society, that suicide is not selfish. It’s not the easy way out; it’s the last resort when you’ve no hope left. It’s nobody’s fault and certainly nobody’s first choice- but I seriously believe that society needs to form a far more understanding and educated view towards not only suicide but depression in general. You never know who is suffering.

I felt compelled to write this account- and any future diaries that I write- in order to try and tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. I want you to know that recovery is an arduous process and that a mental heath problem is every bit as important as a physical problem. Maybe us sufferers are crazy or maybe we do have a screw-loose- call it what you like- yet this is a path that so many people are walking along and one day, it could be you. 

Ken Bruce Presents Tracks of My Years

September 03, 2017

Driving my trusty old black Ford Fiesta to university in time for an 11.00 am lecture, I would tune in to Ken Bruce’s radio show on Radio 2 to indulge in the ‘Tracks of my years’ segment. Other than that, I don’t care much for his show (maybe Pop Master if I’m feeling musically savvy) yet I really enjoyed listening to how music has shaped people’s lives. Here, I write about the music that has shaped mine…

First song I remember hearing- The Ramones, ‘Baby I Love You’

It’s not quite the original version, but I remember falling asleep to the sound of my Mum singing this soft-punk tune. Originally a Motown classic, unexpectedly, The Ramones took this song and put their own fantastic spin on it and I adore it. It wasn’t until hearing it on the radio a few years back that I remembered how I knew all the words and a smile grew across my face. I love that my Mum shunned rocking me to sleep to the words of classic lullabies and opted instead to soothe me with the words of Deedee and the gang. It always makes me smile when I listen to the lyrics and reminds me of my Mum’s wonderfully alternative attitude to life.

The song I wish I’d written- Don McLean, ‘American Pie’

I could listen to this song all day every day. An eight-and-a-half-minute history lesson, ample with literary delights and a catchy chorus, this song really makes me think of a time when life was chirpier for people- the good old days and it mourns the passing of an era. The lyrics are so thought provoking, “when Lenin read a book on Marx…” John Lennon or Vladmir, the communist revolutionary? I suppose it could be either and the ambiguity fascinates me. My parents used to play this around the house, and I remember singing it in the bathroom at school with a friend aged 5, so it’s been in my life for a long time. I was obsessed and I still am. In fact, writing this, I’m reminded of Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’ and wish I’d written that too. Both songs are just so so beautiful, inspiring and meaningful.

The best concert I’ve been to- Jake Bugg, 2015/ Vengaboys 2016

This is such a difficult one- my favourite was when I went to see the Vengaboys last summer at a throwback festival with my sister and some friends. We made a conga-line of the Vengabus when they sang ‘We like to Party!’. I’ll never forget looking back and seeing around 200 people linking behind us, conga-ing to an 90s guilty pleasure. However, I know the Vengaboys is hardly a credible gig, so aside from them, my favourite concert was Jake Bugg, when I saw him in Nottingham. His vocals were absolutely incredible and the show wasn’t in your face; just him, a guitar and his band. I thought it was so great, that I saw him twice on that particular tour.

The song that makes me happy- Neil Diamond, ‘Sweet Caroline’

Sweet Caroline is probably the sound track to every holiday car journey we ever made when I was a child. I remember my Mum used to have a tape with this song on and my siblings and I would all join in on the chorus in the back of our apple-red Ford Escort, arms in the air. To this day, we still listen to this song on a car journey (even though we don’t travel together anymore) and reminisce about the good old days. In fact, my sister requested it recently on Simon Mayo’s Drive Time and he played it! You can guarantee that you’ll hear this at any Till family party.

The song that makes me want to dance- The Black Keys, ‘Lonely Boy’

I didn’t even have to think twice about this one- it’s one of those songs that has you dancing without even realising. Despite being released in 2011, I first heard this song on my ERASMUS year in Spain, 2016 and fell in love with it; it soon became our Saturday night anthem. Many a time have my boyfriend and I danced ‘The Carlton’ to this round our bedroom. It’s a callous song and the lyrics bear little meaning for me but oh, that rhythm… (love-eyes emoji)

Karaoke songs- Elvis ‘Suspicious Minds’, Dolly Parton ‘Islands in the Stream’

I’ve never been one to shy away from the lime-light so it probably comes as no surprise that I adore karaoke. My parents bought my older sister and I a karaoke machine for Christmas when we were younger and it’s probably my favourite present ever. We’d duet Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” and swing our microphones like The King himself. Another one you’d hear us shrieking from upstairs was “Underneath Your Clothes” by Shakira (I genuinely convinced myself at one point that I was going to apply for “Stars in Their Eyes Kids” and perform that). But anyway, as technology developed, Singstar soon became our karaoke machine of choice and here’s where it gets super interesting… This is where we realised I can do a bad-ass tribute to Dolly Parton (my older sister is still insanely jealous of this, right, Beth?). So anyway, ‘Islands in the Stream”, “9-5” “Jolene”… you name it and I’m on it. You never know- if this writing career doesn’t take off, then I’m off to the rodeo.

Song that reminds me of home- The Stone Roses, ‘She Bangs the Drums’

Again, another song that turned into an anthem for my family and I. When I first turned eighteen (and until the pub got a bit shit), my siblings, friends and I would go to this place in Derby called ‘The Blessington Carriage’ at the end of a Saturday night and request this from the DJ. We’d chant our hearts out and dance in our drunken stupor. It’s a song I can sing with my Mum around the house too (after-all, she was the one who introduced me to The Stone Roses). Because I live away from home so much, sometimes I put this gem on Spotify to remember a time of physical unity and the memories I share with my siblings.

Least favourite song- Corinne Bailey Ray, ‘Put Your Records On’

I wouldn’t say that there’s a certain genre of music that I absolutely hate, rather a few songs here and there that I really cant stand. One example of this would be Corinne Bailey Ray’s “Put Your Records On”. I don’t know why, but I’ve never liked it since it’s first release; I skip it every time it appears on a Spotify playlist. I just find it so boring and dull. I wouldn’t particularly say I have a least favourite song, but it’s up there with my dislikes. (Along with Kate Nash’s ‘Foundations’ and anything Enter Shakiri.)

Ultimate desert island disc- Pink Floyd, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’

I only heard this album a few years ago and I fell in love upon first listen. The way the songs can play into one another and it sound like one extended piece is marvellous, yet each song is so different. Whenever I feel stressed or pent up, just listening to this album helps me to relax and understand my emotions better. When I listen, I’m at one with myself and it allows me time to really relax- I suppose my own kind of meditation. Brain Damage’s line ‘there’s someone in my head and it’s not me’ really resounded with me in recent months when I was suffering with depression and it made me realise that I’m not alone, and my feelings weren’t normal. I’d reference this line to people to explain how I felt. The album is a masterpiece and I don’t think I could ever bring myself to skip it on my playlist.

I’ve made a Spotify playlist which you can find here of all these tracks. Hope you enjoyed!

On my 21st birthday- A letter to my 14 year old self

March 09, 2016

My fourteen-year old self,

I hope you’re enjoying those chocolate selection boxes that you got for the 100% attendance and the five extra merit pages, because believe you me, nobody else will congratulate you for them after school. Having no detentions? Yeah, nobody gives a shit about that either. In a few years, you’ll feel silly for running around doing everything you can to be golden girl. In fact, in a few years you’ll make a New Year's resolution to tell people to fuck off more often, because life’s too short to try and please everybody. Nobody is going to like you for being the best- but who needs their love anyway? (Insert sassy woman emoji) Be the best at what you do because it makes you happy, don’t conform to everybody else’s expectations.