Learning a second language should be a requisite for all

Maura Kelly, Opinion Columnist

Language is one of those things where, if I ruminate on it too long, I get amazingly overwhelmed and it starts to seem unbelievable. The number of languages in the world is incredible, and the countless different shapes our mouths are capable of forming to communicate in different dialects is nothing short of stupefying. 

In a world that is becoming increasingly connected, knowing another language is increasingly useful. It opens up career opportunities, skyrockets your personal growth curve, gifts you with greater cultural understanding and creates new neural pathways in your brain. 

 My advocacy for language learning has all stemmed from a recent decision I made to conduct a personal challenge. I’ve set out the guideline for myself that on Sundays, I may only speak in Spanish in order to become more adept and confident in the language. I’m embarking on this journey for a few reasons.

  1. Speaking the language will give me practice when I’m forced to think in Spanish.
  1. It enables me to be more intentional and aware of the things I am saying; I also say fewer trivial things.
  1. I’ve been trying to become more disciplined, and Spanish is another facet of my life where I can implement that.
  1. It grants me more alone time, which increases my overall gratification–mainly by allowing me to be more productive with my schoolwork. If the people around me can’t understand the language I’m speaking, the language barrier will prevent me from engaging and getting overly distracted.
  1. I’m teaching other people something in the process, whether they like it or not. My friends will inevitably understand or practice more the longer I continue to speak the language around them.

 I think one of the biggest things learning a new language can do is affect how you view people from different cultures. It allows you to be more appreciative and understanding. 

Once I asked my non-Spanish speaking friend in Spanish if I could use their wrinkle-releaser fabric spray. As I was looking into their eyes and willing them to comprehend, a new understanding clicked in my brain. A new cognizance of what it means to experience the prejudice that comes with a language barrier became glaringly obvious to me. Their eyes were clouded with a sour disinterest that made me feel utterly helpless to convey my feelings. I can barely find the words in English, let alone in Spanish, to conjure this complex and confusing mixture of emotions I feel toward speaking a language I’m not fully acquainted with, and having everyone around me be slightly in the dark. 

I also feel slightly in the dark.

Speaking another language to someone who only knows English will go one of two ways: either you will be fetishized or you will be judged. Do they actually find your level of intellect so astounding? Or are they so bitter they don’t understand? Are they bored and simply don’t find it worth their time to attempt to connect? Are they resentful that they can’t understand you, so they end up ignoring your existence?

Last Saturday night, when the clock struck midnight and I transitioned over to speaking in Spanish, one friend told me, “I just don’t get why you’re speaking Spanish right now if you have the ability to speak English. It just feels like an inconvenience.”

How can you be annoyed with me if all of the reasons for this venture are positive ones? There is not an ounce of malintent behind my actions, y por eso como justifica su mala reaccion? I think they feel their confusion is a negative and inconvenient thing, whereas I see it as a positive and necessary one.

I kept saying, “Eso es el punto” (THAT is the point). And they asked what? What is the point?

My realization is the point; my realization is not for you. This is an idea I struggle with–how selfish do I deserve to be with my own life? I know my friend, who comes from a biracial and bilingual family who cannot speak the language, feels a different kind of hollowness in her chest. Probably one of shame at not being able to understand.

 Though it may seem like a lofty and daunting venture, I think we all should consider learning a second language because of the positive things it does for our brains. I think if everyone was able to feel this push and pull that comes with the challenges languages press on us, it would ease judgment cross-culturally and make our country a more accepting place. You can physically feel the cogs in your brain turning and scavenging in order to try and form your thoughts into words, which is a rewarding experience. You need to understand and feel the second version of yourself you become when you are this other speaker. You need to understand the frustration and feel the struggle of the language barrier that comes with speaking another language in the United States. Force yourself to sit in your discomfort.