Learning Language through Culture and Becoming International-Minded
Abhijeet Singh, St. Edward High School Class of 2015
During the 2013-2014 school year, I entered IB Spanish SL as a high school junior with two years of prior Spanish classes under my belt. I felt that I had a proficient understanding of the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation of the language and that, despite officially entering the International Baccalaureate Programme, this year of Spanish would continue to build upon that in a linear and predictable way. As I am now approaching the sunset of my junior year, I am glad to report that I was wrong.
In IB Spanish SL, I didn’t just learn Spanish— I became immersed me in the cultures, traditions, and even politics of Spanish-speaking countries. I stopped looking at Spanish as just a foreign language that I needed to learn as part of a high school requirement, but as a core element in a much more dynamic way of life that I had previously been sheltered to. I saw the people and history behind the words and in doing so came to the realization that this class was the greatest exemplar of the International Baccalaureate doctrine of international-mindedness. I no longer concerned myself only with American culture and the American point of view, but with those of countries like Spain, which were older and equally if not more complex.
I learned of Spanish holidays, such as El Día de los Reyes Magos, or the Day of Three Kings, which plays out like an extension to Christmas in its gift-giving and special traditions. I became a part of a sort of mock sports league by adopting and watching over the Villarreal CF football team of La Liga. I gained insight into the epidemic of bullying, which is unfortunately as rampant in Spain as it is in the United States. I researched the unique region of the Costa del Sol and its plans for future expansion. I sampled unique kinds of Spanish food and even took a step into the country’s rich contributions to artwork over the last several centuries through the works of El Greco, Francisco Goya, and Pablo Picasso.
Yet the most impactful experience I had in IB Spanish SL involved politics; in Spain, the divisive and controversial sport of bullfighting has become the subject of many national debates. While animal rights activists and other humanitarians call for a ban to the sport, others protect that it is an essential part to the nation’s history and economy. I took the latter stance, and for an assignment given by the class, argued that the bullfighting is not very unlike the meat industry, and provides jobs, money, tourist attractions, and a sense of loyal adherence to the country’s exceptional history.
In writing this essay, I had done something I had never done before. I learned of an issue at the heart of a country I had never been to nor familiarized myself with, put myself in the shoes of one of its citizens, and took a position to argue for my perspective. By doing this, I had opened up my boundaries and expanded my knowledge, and no longer looked at Spanish as a two-dimensional language but rather the essence of a culture— a culture that was as legitimate and complex as my own. Because of this, I believe that not only did IB Spanish SL better teach me Spanish, but that it also helped shape me into a true international thinker.
Learning a new language is always good. But understanding the people, culture, and traditions behind it is where the true experience lies.