It’s fair to say that I have fully embraced learning languages. Especially German. It could be an intrinsic passion, it could also be that if I hadn’t enjoyed a school trip to Berlin when I was 14, I wouldn’t have given languages a second thought.
But I loved that trip. So I visited Berlin again. And again. And again. And before I knew it, I’d been so many times that I could navigate myself around the city. I would ask my German teachers to help me write emails to friends I made along the way (there was no WhatsApp back then), and with every visit my interest in the culture and desire to become fluent in the language became more apparent.
I don’t come from a multilingual background, so the British educational system was my only door to learning a language. Brits are not known for being polyglots, and I certainly stuck out amongst my peers. At this time, using the internet to revise meant scrolling through BBC Bitesize. I certainly wasn’t watching TikTok videos with German language tips and searching for tandem partners on Facebook groups. Resources weren’t what they are today, but I was determined, performing well at school and there was nothing to stop me!
At least that’s what I thought. Instead of the A that I was predicted in German, I got a B in my GCSE* exams. I’ll never forget hugging my mum in floods of tears because I really wanted that predicted A to be an achieved A. I would have been happy with a B, but I felt it didn’t reflect my true passion and potential. It was the predicted A that secured my spot at the sixth form college** that I wanted to my A-Levels*** at. Unfortunately, my achieved B was about to show me otherwise.
For context, students who study A-Level German would typically drop two grades from what they achieved at GCSE German. Why? Because of the ‘above average difficulty’ and ‘severe’ grading of the exams. Meaning that if you got a B at GCSE, your predicted A-Level grade would be a C. Or, if like me, you got a B at GCSE, your predicted A-Level grade would be a D.
I approached my first choice of sixth-form college, and it turned out that my predicted D actually stood for ‘denied.’ “You won’t make it,” was uttered when I tried to explain how much I wanted to study German. I felt like my world had been shattered.
I couldn’t understand why my determination wasn’t enough. My dream had been denied because I didn’t get an A. But I knew myself. I knew that if I just kept practicing, I’d be fine. I thrived for this subject and I was determined to make it work. Why wouldn’t they just believe me?
As A-Levels were the only route to university, I had no choice but to consider another option. I was fortunate that my school had a sixth-form college within it. My B-grade GCSE was sufficient, and whilst I had initially wanted to spread my wings and study in a different environment, I could now at least study German.
My A-Level years were not easy. In fact, they were most challenging educational years of my life. I went from thriving with energy at GCSE level, to having my confidence knocked and staying behind for extra help after class. I felt like I wouldn’t make it.
I became so scared of failure that just minutes before my final exam, I cried to my teacher and asked “What if I don’t pass?” To which she assuringly replied “You will be fine.” Although looking back, she must have been just as stressed as I was!
With hindsight, I’ve learnt that the person who told me I wouldn’t make it didn’t care about me making it all. His reaction was not a reflection of me, if anything, it was a reflection of him. Not everyone has our personal aspirations in mind.
At a time where I felt my grades determined the rest of my life, at a time where I not only stumbled but was also pushed down, I managed to pick myself up.
I went on to study Applied Languages (German & Spanish) at university, where I learnt Spanish from beginners. During these years I also dipped into a bit of Italian and French.
As part of my degree, I went to university in both Germany and Spain, and three years after graduating, I moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where I still live now. I guess I got to spread my wings further than I’d ever imagined.
Oh, and just to add: Not only did I get that C at A-Level German, but today native German speakers sometimes think I grew up speaking German as a second language. Now if that doesn’t mean I made it, then I don’t know what does!
*GCSE: In the UK, when 15/16 years old, students take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. These determine the A-Levels/ B-Tec courses you can take, before going to university.
**Sixth form college: An educational institution, where students aged 16 – 19 study after school and before potentially going to university.
***A-Level: (Advanced Level) is a UK qualification for students who are 16+. This qualification is recognised for acceptance into higher education institutes.