En la mayoría del mundo, es muy importante y común que la gente puede hablar más que un idioma. If you can read that (and you’re American), you’re with the other 10% of your paisanos who also speak Spanish.
As Americans we are incredibly fortunate that other countries are further ahead of us in terms of language education, and when we go to other countries, many are willing to meet us more than halfway by either knowing or making an effort to speak English. We are geographically isolated in comparison to Europe and Asia, where international travel is more common, and thus, knowing another language is much more of a necessity. But I don’t believe that makes it any less important for us to speak more than one language. IMHO, it’s ridiculous to reject the system of bilingual education.
Learning a new language makes you think more about the complexities of your native tongue, or at least it did for me. After spending five months learning and struggling with Spanish, the connections between languages became more apparent. Just a small example: It was easy for me to remember the word for beard, barba, because I connected it with the English word barber.
Some of you might think it’s too late to learn another language. And it’s true that the window of opportunity when it’s easiest to soak up all facets of another language ends roughly around the age of ten.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible – many community programs exist to teach adults, and if you’ve got a little bit of money and are looking to take a vacation, you can easily find resort-schools in Costa Rica, Mexico, and other Latin American countries where you can learn Spanish while you travel. Even New York’s Mayor Bloomberg made an effort, at 66 years old, to be able to speak with more of his constituents, and he was applauded by the executive director of the Modern Language association. And of course, there’s always Rosetta Stone.
UC-Berkeley’s Center for Research, Diversity & Excellence makes a great point that people get more value from their education when the lessons are meaningful for them, and that instructional conversation is a great way to learn. One way that might be easiest for you to learn a language is by finding a way to work it into your every day life. Seek out opportunities to work with English language learners (ELL) in your community – it’s a fantastic opportunity for both parties: As you grow to learn another language, they learn to speak the most common language in America from a native speaker.
Sidenote here: The United States has no official language, English is just the most widely spoken language. In China, the official language is Standard Mandarin, but nearly all Chinese people speak Mandarin in addition to the language native to their home province.
We are so fortunate to live in a country that still holds some appeal for foreigners. Once coined the, “land of opportunity,” America is now one of the most difficult countries to enter if you are from a poor or less-developed country. And despite that, people still make the effort. </political rant>
The value of being bi- or multilingual is priceless, and yet schools are cutting their foreign language programs, and well-known companies refuse to pay translators to offer their services to a larger audience. So if you, like me, have aspirations to work abroad one day, make foreign language learning a priority. As William Chase wrote in the New York Times, “There is no job for an American in a foreign country where a basic grasp of the language is not a distinct advantage.”
Is foreign language a part of your daily life? Do you think my left-leaning opinions on the necessity of learning another language are insane? If you have a bone to pick or just something to say, leave it in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond.
Note: This is part two of a three-part series called The power of education.