College Q&A: Why Learn A New Language?
Learning an additional language is a lot like learning how to paint with colors after a lifetime of using grayscale.
I took Spanish and French in high school, and then Russian at university. Each one has helped me re-experience a world that was only ever monolingual. When I was given the opportunity to practice my Spanish skills, I took it.
That opportunity was going to Mexico. Although I had just graduated from college and had several years’ worth of studying the language, I still only spoke Spanish like a grade-schooler.
Being humbled was the best learning experience of my life. It was as if I was given a second chance to learn how to walk and talk. Many people say that if they could go back in time that they would not change a thing; when I learned Spanish from the ground up, I can say that I relived a part of my childhood, but was more receptive to everything this time around.
I remember not being able to express myself properly, and the frustration and embarrassment that came with it. I tripped so often with the language that I practically fell over when I spoke it. But as time passed, the falls became fewer and fewer until they became mere stumbles along the way. I still remember the morning when I woke up after having had a dream in Spanish: from that day hence I found myself thinking in Spanish as well.
Learning an additional language is important for your own personal growth. By learning a new language, you learn more things about your mother tongue, and also about yourself. Being able to describe yourself and the things around you in more than one language gives you more than one perspective on an issue, which widens your worldview.
The best way to learn an additional language is to immerse yourself in the target country or find native speakers. In Mexico, for example, there are many language schools dedicated to teaching foreigners Spanish. These are very helpful institutions. For me, however, I learn like a sponge: I absorbed the language on the fly while buying tacos on the street, hanging out with friends, and teaching English classes.
Being multilingual opens up new doors of opportunity for you because some doors are written in other languages, and being able to read which door leads to what is an invaluable skill in a globalized world. In high school, when my friends asked why I wanted to study so many languages, I did not really have an answer. I just told them I studied them because I liked them. Now, I can say that I studied languages to understand the world from someone else’s point of view, which is an invaluable skill in college, the workplace, and life.
Joshua B. Canty
West Gardiner, Maine
The author received a master of arts degree in international relations from Alliant International University in 2010 and a bachelor of arts degree in political science with a minor in economics from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2007. He is currently living in Mexico, where he is teaching English.