The Language Advantage

Advice for Incoming Freshman

Abhijeet Singh, Saint Edward High School Class of 2015

As a high school senior, I look back at my four years of Spanish, two of which were spent as part of the International Baccalaureate program, with a sense of gratitude and appreciation. While many high school freshmen likely approach their language class as a frustrating requirement, or something merely to pad their transcripts, the true usefulness of learning a new language over the course of four years is far more profound. Learning Spanish hasn’t just opened up the ability for me to communicate in a new way, but has opened up new life-changing opportunities. Every major university throughout the United States offers a variety of study-abroad trips to Spanish-speaking countries, from Mexico to Argentina to Spain. My ability to understand Spanish provides me with the ability not only to travel to these countries, but also to immerse myself in their cultures and to partake in their daily life. Imagine how much more exciting visiting a foreign country can be when one can communicate with proficiency with its locals, read all its signs and billboards, and become a part of its culture. Without knowing Spanish, I’d merely feel like another wide-eyed tourist, here to take pictures and visit gift shops. But with Spanish, I can now truly be a part of these countries in an experience that I’m unlikely to forget. Through Spanish, I can now claim to understand the food of La Costa del Sol, the political controversy of La Corrida de Toros, and a variety of Spanish holidays, such as El Día de los Reyes. It’s not just a matter of speaking— but of understanding the complex ways of life of those who live in other parts of the world. Acquiring a foreign language is the best gateway to gaining this understanding.

The benefits of this, however, extend beyond improved communication, experiences, and understanding. When more people put themselves in the shoes of others, and “walk around in them,” as Atticus Finch masterfully put it in To Kill a Mockingbird, the world becomes a better place. Xenophobia and a variety of social issues stem from a lack of empathy, which comes from the inability for many to understand the lives and perspectives of others. When more people understand language, they understand culture and people to whom they have previously not been fully exposed, and in doing this they allow themselves to contribute to and be a part of a more globally-minded, interconnected world. Language should be a prerequisite for all 21st century thinkers.

There’s a well known joke: What do you call someone who knows three languages? Polylingual. What about someone who knows two languages? Bilingual. And someone who knows one language? American. I ask that we put an end to this stereotype. Learning a language opened up a new world to me. I can now communicate with people in a way that leads to unprecedented experiences; I can travel the world, not as a tourist, but as a part of new cultures; I can understand and empathize with different people in different places in a way that makes me more open-minded. I ask that every incoming freshman, reluctantly taking language as a mere requirement, look at it as more than just a class or a grade. It’s a tool— a tool that opens endless doors. Don’t waste it, freshmen.

This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Vol. 53, No. 3 - Summer 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

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