Many years ago, when I was a student, one of the first votes I cast was for the UK to remain in what we then called the EEC, now, of course, the EU. Not long afterwards, because my degree included French, I left the UK to work in France for a year, an obligatory part of my course, as was the dissertation I wrote while there.
Despite having studied the language for ten years, I spent the first three months watching conversations as one does a tennis match, and speaking when I was spoken to but not otherwise. It was not an easy time, but things, including my language skills, did improve!
On my return, I told myself that it didn’t have to be that hard. I vowed I’d do my best to make sure that any children of mine wouldn’t have to acquire their second language in the way I did.
Fast-forward twenty years or so, and in a move that we’ve never regretted, we re-located to France, “we” being my husband and myself, with our son, then aged four. Between EU membership, the advent of the budget airlines and the improving technology to support working from home, it was no more difficult than re-locating within the UK.
That was eighteen years ago. Our son is perfectly bilingual – he speaks English like an Englishman and French like a Frenchman. He became fluent in French in the first three months, which is typical for children who move when they’re that young – even a few years older and it’s not the same. More through luck than judgement, we got it just right.
Furthermore, because he became bilingual so young, he finds it easy to “pick up” other languages. So far, German, Spanish and Japanese! This “turn on the language chip early for lasting results” phenomenon is well-documented, as Google will no doubt tell you.
I cannot think of a more precious gift that we could have given him, and I think it is hugely important that people should continue to have the opportunity to do as we did if they so choose. Ironically, however, because we did take that opportunity, as things stand none of us will be able to vote on whether the UK stays in or leaves the EU.