Recently, I attended a speaker session at Newstead Wood School, given by Stephanie Barwick, the Honorary Consul to the Federal Republic of Germany. She came to speak about the importance of learning languages. She spoke at length about the job and travel opportunities available to multilingual people. There are endless benefits to learning a language - increased creativity, brain plasticity and improved decision-making facilities.


What made the real difference in Mrs Barwick’s speech was her acknowledgement of the rougher edges of language learning. She learned English in school while she lived in Germany, but struggled to pick up French when she was studying for her degree in European Business Studies with French at the University of Munich. This led her to live briefly in France, where she got better at speaking French - proving that if you really want to learn a language, you should live in a country where it’s spoken.

A parent, Jean-Baptiste Morlot, had this to say:

I fully agree with you [Mrs Barwick] - you can’t learn a language properly without understanding the culture which helped to make it. How could you talk with a French person without knowing French cuisine?


She became emotional at one point during the speech, talking about the 9th of November 1989; the Fall of the Berlin Wall. She described her experience, sitting in a bar in France with her would-be husband, with tears streaming down her face as she watched the wall dividing her homeland collapse. She described how everyone in that restaurant, regardless of where they were from, watched first in awe, then excitement, as the events unfolded. I was almost moved to tears at her elegant and heart-warming recollection of the feeling of kinship that pulled at her in those moments.


Later on, she added some levity by remarking on the cultural differences between English, French and German people. She hilariously noted that in a meeting in Germany, you would instantly lay out all the information. The English manner is more guarded, even joking that in fact, “you would most likely learn more outside of the meeting than during it!”. Again, she linked this back to language learning- Mrs Barwick observed that an understanding of the language helps to illuminate the history, culture and mannerisms of a group of people.


Finally, she gave a brief description of her work as Honourary Consul which she does pro bono alongside her day job as a Non-Executive Director. She’s been to several networking events but her main job is to connect people of German heritage with others across the UK, aiding German speakers with passport renewals and even providing avenues through which people who don’t know the language can begin to learn it.


Astrid, a Year 10 student at Newstead, mused,

She was very expressive on the link between culture and language- how it is imperative to understand the language to understand the people, and vice versa. Despite the talk being mostly about herself, she made it feel like a shared experience with her and the audience.


Throughout the speech, the atmosphere in the room was one of rapt attention - from her beginnings in Germany to her success in the UK today. Many people chimed in with their own anecdotes and shared experiences of immigration and their cultures, and as a member of the audience, I felt that I’d formed a personal connection with her. After her speech, she was gracious enough to stay behind and answer any additional questions- she even fielded one of mine in French!


All in all, I would rate it a 10/10 experience - Mrs Barwick was friendly, down-to-earth, passionate and devoted to language learning. She showed us what it really means to appreciate other cultures, something that is increasingly important in multicultural England. Her speech left me with a sense of hope that maybe enough people cared about languages to save them. This is imperative to the development of this country as our shared cultures are merely a part of increasingly multicultural England.


This event took place on Friday, 6th October, 2023