After years of “practice” in the classroom, studying abroad in Peru has allowed me to use Spanish in a practical, complex environment.
While my skills have greatly improved, I felt pretty inadequate at the beginning of my trip. Speaking with fellow exchange students, I noticed my European counterparts had broader vocabularies, more hands-on experience, and on the whole, better accents than American students. It seemed to me they had a great advantage. Most could speak English perfectly as well, while I didn’t speak a lick of their native tongue.
Language is more than a means of communication. It is a path into different cultures. For some, it is a means of progress and opportunity to better their life. Language affects the way we relate each other and how we perceive the world around us.
To better adapt to this increasingly globalized world, I believe the benefits of being multilingual deserve our attention. It is one thing to travel and observe different cultures through your own lens, but it is an entirely different experience to be able to speak to people and better understand their worldview.
If we seek to make meaningful relationships with other countries through government, economics, entrepreneurship, NGOS, volunteer opportunities, etc. it is important that we take a look at the way we approach language education.
For one, the younger we start, the better. It has been proven through numerous studies that language acquisition is easier for children than adults in regards to second languages. Rather than starting at 6th or 7th grade, we should be exposing children to different languages as soon as possible and give them the option to begin taking classes in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, etc., at an earlier age.
Learning multiple languages benefits many areas of cognitive processing, including memory. According to a study by the University of California in San Diego, bilingualism can help delay the onset of dementia. Scientists continue to examine the effect of second language on the brain, but aside from biological purposes, there are more several practical advantages.
Speaking Spanish has allowed me to move past the role of tourist. I am able to follow politics and take part in classroom discussions. Perhaps the most rewarding part has been the ability to better understand Peru as a society.
I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to learn Spanish and put it into practice. And I know in the world of my children, speaking more than one language will be an even more pertinent skill.
We cannot ignore the importance of multi-language education and should look closely at how we can better emphasize its role.