Five Years of Learning Spanish and…Nothing

By Sami Thompson, News, Entertainment, and Features Editor

Eighty percent of Americans, unlike majority of the world, are limited linguistically with English as their first and often only language, limiting them culturally as well. Unlike Europe, linguistics isn’t all that urgent in the United States.Learning another language in the United States simply isn’t deemed important, but this closes the door on countless opportunities to learn, to experience, and to explore the rest of the world. English may be a major language, but it’s not the only one out there.

During October of 2015, French exchange students visited AHS. Of course, they were the fascination of the school. They were exotic, mysterious, and from a completely different world. But from my point of view, the most special aspect about them wasn’t their French heritage. It was that they could speak many languages. The French students were speaking English almost perfectly, and some could speak Spanish and Chinese. These students were my age. In the same amount of time that I was managing to learn one language, they were learning their fourth. The jealousy edged its way in quickly. I couldn’t communicate with them as fluently, and I knew the situation would be the same if I travelled anywhere in Europe. I would be struggling terribly while these students could practically go anywhere and communicate just fine. While middle school students are learning their third language in Europe, American students are beginning to learn their second. According to Gallup.com, only twenty five percent of adults can hold a conversation in a different language, and most of those people grew up with the language in their home instead of learning it in a classroom setting.

So why don’t Americans speak any other languages? Why do the citizens of this particular nation limit themselves culturally? This was the question baffling my mind as I watched these kids switch from speaking English to French to Spanish within minutes. The answers ironically make perfect sense. Though we live in a country famous for its endless opportunities, we actually limit ourselves a lot. Learning a second language isn’t an option in places like South America or Europe. The children in those countries don’t have a choice, unlike here where states allow school districts to decide whether or not a language course is mandatory. Also, students in America start learning a second language around middle school, while students in Europe start learning as early as second grade. Learning languages at an early age allows the child to acquire the knowledge naturally, instead of learning it like formal information in a science or social studies class, for example. Americans don’t travel nearly as much either, so they lack the exposure to different cultures, which is necessary to learn another language.

Many argue that Americans don’t necessarily have to know languages other than English. Majority of adults stay in the states for work, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic, English will be the mainly spoken language. English is also a very neutral language; it doesn’t belong to one culture.

“English is also an international language. Today it’s an international language of business. Partially because of the strength of the United States after World War II, but also, in many respects, because it’s a neutral language,” Katherine Rozei, AHS French teacher, said.

However, just because English is a language for the whole world doesn’t mean we should limit ourselves to it. The United States participates in international business everyday. Georgia alone is a major site for international business. Knowing multiple languages expands the amount of people and businesses one can work with. But being bilingual has more than  just economic benefits. One can travel abroad and truly experience the culture and people, instead of just taking the cliche tourist program. It enables someone to be apart of the culture instead of just learning about it and connect with it on personal level, enriching life in general.

American students may be in bad shape when it comes to language, but there are little steps anyone can take to start learning more. Pop culture is a major tool. Listen to music by Latino artists or watch French movies with subtitles. Hearing the language in a natural setting will familiarize the brain. Students can also participate in local cultural festivals, especially in Atlanta. You have the resources: use them.
The United States is indeed a huge and powerful figure, so it’s easy for us, as Americans, to believe our culture is the only one. But the rest of the planet can’t simply be ignored. Different cultures exist, and it’s a shame that majority of Americans can’t resonate with them. So try to learn a language, it definitely can’t hurt you. Don’t let ignorance keep you from the rest of the world.  

Photo Credits: Glovico & From Spanish To Espanol

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