Columns / Discourse / February 14, 2018

Why learning a new language will help us connect

Learning a language is more than memorizing words out of a dictionary. It is about the culture, the meaning and the heart that comes through the words. Every foreign language brings a different challenge, but the reward that comes with learning such an important part of that country’s culture is what connects you to the rest of the world.

I wasn’t required to learn a new language until I was a freshman in high school. Even in the beginner German class that I was forced into, I never really learned the language. I memorized the words for the chapter test and let them slip from my mind as soon as I didn’t need them. I also quit as soon as I could. Google Translate was my best friend for that year, yet that did not teach me the ins and outs of German traditions and phrases.

Learning a language required too much time and patience to really motivate me into understanding it. Now being at Knox, I am required to take another credit of a foreign language.

This time around, I am trying to make the best of it. I have learned through many videos and articles about language learning that it is about understanding a little bit at a time rather than memorizing words. The culture of the language is the most important factor.

In America’s political climate today, it is common to hear the words “why don’t you learn English,” even though the words are never reciprocated. Chances are, people who do not speak English in America are trying very hard to learn. The judgment that comes from Americans when talking to someone who doesn’t know English is heartbreaking. Language shows the diversity throughout our country. It is just one example of this mixing bowl we live in, yet it is still a major part of the discrimination that is spread throughout the U.S.

How can something that can take years to learn be something that people judge others for not knowing?

Nelson Mandela once said, “if you talk to a man in a second language, you’re talking to his brain; if you talk to him in his mother language, you’re talking to his heart.”

One way to help this cause is to start to learn a language that interests you. It can be very difficult, but speaking to someone in their first language truly touches their heart, as Mandela said. You can see the curiosity increase as a person talks to you in the way that goes deep into their soul.

Language learning does not have to be a burden and I am learning this slowly. It may seem like it when cramming for your next test, but it means more than just the grade in a class. Ever since taking my Spanish courses this year, I am beginning to understand my friends around campus who have conversations with each other in Spanish and I find this so rewarding.

So next time you hear someone speaking in a foreign language or you are sitting in a required course, think of how heartwarming it would be to speak to someone who knows Spanish very well, but English on a lesser scale. Think of the way that your effort would make their day just through one conversation. Just this small act could increase your language learning curiosity.

 

Sadie Cheney

Tags:  bilingual languages learning

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