FOREIGN GROUND: The writer learns about life while mastering Spanish
LEARNING a language at your own pace is enjoyable. It is not the case if it is mandatory to sit a foreign language exam as a university entrance requirement.
I researched the routes to higher education in Ireland recently. And as a kiasu Malaysian, I pored over the list of leading universities in the world. I gawked at the points that I needed to score at the Irish Living Certificate examination (on a par with Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia). It made my jaw drop as I needed straight As to apply for an undergraduate course I had set my sights on.
Then I saw details of the admission requisites — English, Irish AND an extra language. As for English, I have that in the bag. I also have an exemption from the Irish language. As for the extra language? I had spent my first 16 years speaking Malay and English, and I do not know any other foreign languages.
I enquired if the university could make an exception in my case. The minute the admissions officer learnt that I was from Malaysia, she said that Bahasa Malaysia is acceptable. My heart was overjoyed until I saw the fine print — “at Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) level“.
I had moved to Ireland after sitting Penilaian Menengah Rendah. When I arrived, I entered fourth year and every student had been learning a European Union (EU) language since they were in first year — they were three years into the syllabus. How was I to write essays along with them when I was incapable of counting to 10 in a foreign language? Basically, I fall between two stools — I am too young to sit SPM and I am too late to take up an EU language.
My solution was to cover the three years I had missed and master Spanish. I had to forgo some classes of my subject choices in high school. For each subject, there are five classes a week. For instance, Biology is one of my electives. But instead of five periods of the subject, I have two of Biology and three of Spanish.
I did not come to that conclusion immediately. I groaned and moaned before I made the mature decision. I could have easily settled for the handful of universities that did not have that foreign language requirement, which would have reduced my options by half. But, as much as I did not want to take up a new language, I wanted to aim for the best. Even if I do not get accepted due to lack of points, at least I could say that I gave it my all.
I figured as Spanish has a similar pronunciation to Bahasa Malaysia, it would be easier to learn. For instance, meja in Bahasa Malaysia is mesa in Spanish. Almari is armario.
You may plan things in life and a 180-degree turn can destroy your scheme. But rather than vent, overcome the hurdles. Once again, life took a turn in the weeks that followed.
After a month of cramming as much Spanish as I possibly could, I discovered a route out and I did not have to learn an EU language after all.
When life gives you lemons, throw them back at it!
The writer is studying at a high school in Ireland. She loves to try all things but is a Malaysian at heart.