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The Spark to Speak: How Languages Changed My Life
19 year old Trinity student Blaithín Macken Smith once hated school. Discovering her love of languages changed her life and led her to unexpected places...including receiving a European Language Label at our 2016 award ceremony in Farmleigh, Dublin!
My name is Bláithín Macken Smith and I am nineteen. If you could see sixteen-year-old me, it would be like looking at two entirely different people. I suppose that's true for a lot of people, but for me the reason behind my big transition was my study of languages. Until my fourth year of school I utterly despised everything about it: every morning it was more difficult to drag myself out of bed, so I very often didn’t. I was convinced that after fourth year, that was it. I was going to drop out. I desperately wanted to leave school and become a tattoo artist, so much so that I spent a lot of transition year on work experience in tattoo parlours around Dublin. Most of my family and teachers thought that the war was lost and that my mind was made up. And then something happened.
"The course of my life changed entirely"
All through transition year I was given the opportunity to try subjects I had never tried before: Russian, Japanese, Latin and Spanish--which I had studied since first year, but now started to see the fun in. I did aptitude tests which showed me I had abilities in linguistic subjects. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t listen to these signs until fifth year. When I finally discovered my love for languages, the course of my life changed entirely. I decided I would not do a science or a business subject for the Leaving Cert and instead took up Japanese and Russian along with Spanish, Irish and English. My whole outlook on school changed. I very rarely missed a day and even went to Russian classes every Saturday morning. Although it was stressful at times I loved every minute of it. I threw myself into my studies simply because I loved my subjects so much. I applied for an exchange to Japan at the end of fifth year—and I succeeded in getting it!
Slinging slang in Japan
I spent three weeks attending school in Kansai in Japan and stayed with two different host families. They lived in very different areas and gave me two distinct cultural experiences. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I learned so much. Not only about another culture, but about myself as well. I knew exactly what direction I wanted to take my life in. I made lifelong friends in Japan, with whom I still speak on a regular basis. Of course my Japanese has become a lot more colloquial than correct, but hey! Where’s the fun without some juicy slang?
Once sixth year started I was so ready to take the big Leaving Cert head on. God, how over confident and wrong I was! It was the most horribly over-thought period in my life. Anyway, after a ridiculous amount of studying and guilty dossing, I managed to pull it out of the bag. It’s fair to say that I and everyone else I knew was absolutely gobsmacked by my results. I mean, former pink-mohawked cynic of the year getting A1s in Russian, Japanese and Spanish?! An utter miracle. I didn’t recognise myself but I’m absolutely loving this new found sense of self.
"Find something that you love and any way possible to keep doing it"
These days I can be found around the Arts block of Trinity College, being a very patriotic Gaelgóir and enthusiastic fan of all things Eastern European. The opportunities that languages have opened up for me are endless. Already this year I have been on an exchange to Kyiv in Ukraine, and have been called on to translate a dangerous amount of tattoos. So if you are a Russian speaker and you see some very pasty Irish people with this word tattooed on them, please do not under any circumstances tell them that it means potato.
For me, the most important goal in your life should be to find something that you love and any way possible to keep doing it. The possibilities are infinite and the craic is 90. Lots of love from a bona fide language fanatic!