Many times junior high and high school students, as well as some adults, do not see the necessity of learning a foreign language. State education departments require students to take at least one type of communication course in order to graduate from high school. School districts include any type of foreign language under the category of communication.
Some students only take the one class of Spanish, French, German, or another language. Others who aspire to attend a four year university take two or three years required for college admission. Still others, who are really interested in a language, continue to learn and speak the language while in college. However, learning a foreign language through formal education is not the only method by which an individual may become fluent in another language. The key to learning a foreign language is desire.
Learning a foreign language can be one of the most beneficial skills and strengths one can acquire. I have had students in French and Spanish classes tell me for years that he or she absolutely cannot learn the language. This is not true. Students (or anyone) just need confidence in themselves and a little practice… and some learning techniques to enhance their memories. It just takes a little time and effort.
Several years ago when I taught French, I had two students in class who were relatives of mine, Lynn Chumbley and Jason Bratcher. Lynn told me he absolutely could not learn French, but he made the class of 30 much more lively. Jason, an enjoyable student also, who had a little more confidence than Lynn, learned the language easily. Years later while Lynn was on a business trip in Canada with his wife, they went to a French restaurant for dinner. When the waiter came, Lynn ordered the dinner fluently, surprising himself, as well as his wife. He remembered the language after all and came to the realization that he had learned more French than he thought he had.
Jason Bratcher decided to minor in French when he was a student at Texas Tech University. When the opportunity to study in Paris for a year presented itself, he did so in order to be immersed in the language. After Jason’s year abroad, he applied to medical school at Texas Tech. His experience in a country outside of the United States helped him gain admission to med school. He had an advantage that some other college medical school applicants didn’t have.
Other people I know have learned languages both inside and outside the classroom. Chelsea Stallings, who now resides in Dallas, took a graduation trip to Cancun with classmates Allison Klein Conklin and Kelsey Chandler Starnes. Their taxi driver spoke only Spanish, and Chelsea conversed with him the entire 45 minutes to their hotel. She believes that it is critically important to learn another language. Chelsea said that “If anything, learning about another culture is so important for being a global citizen. Americans are so tunnel visioned, and everyone else in the world is much more aware of other cultures than Americans are. Learning another language also helps you with life skills such as interacting with other cultures and knowing Americans aren’t the only people on the planet!”
We never know where we will end up in our lives, geographically, or in our professions. As well, we do not know who will cross our paths. Some people move to other parts of the nation and encounter various cultures such as the German culture in New Braunfels, Texas; Cuban culture in Miami, Florida; and Puerto Rican culture in New York; Chinese and Japanese in New York and California. For those that don’t move to these places, knowing a foreign language can be beneficial on vacations, or even when we go to Walmart or want to converse with someone on Facebook. We even had neighbors from Colombia move in next door once. I was really glad I knew Spanish!
In the past, foreign exchange students have enrolled in Artesia High School without knowing any conversational English at all. The English classes they took in Canada, Japan, and Thailand seemed only to be grammar rules. The only way the students learned the English was as they participated in sports and activities, and used their new language skills. As they conversed with their classmates and teachers, they picked up as much of the language as possible.
Learning to speak one or more foreign languages benefits any individual who invests the time to attain the skills and knowledge. After learning one language, it is easier to learn the second.
Obtaining any new talent increases brain power, strengthens the brain muscle, and sharpens problem-solving abilities. Bilingual or multilingual speakers are also able to multi-task well and juggle numerous activities. Learning a foreign language helps to improve cognitive skills and one’s own language skills. Subconsciously, we also compare our own sentence structure and vocabulary with that of the other language. Acquiring the new language also helps one to improve test scores. The skill enhances critical thinking patterns. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to pick up a second or third language is to help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. This learning helps to improve memory and keep your brain healthy and active by challenging yourself with the new language.
Perhaps another important advantage for obtaining the knowledge of another language is to enhance your chosen job or profession. I saw another former Spanish student this week, Maison Hooten, currently a student at the University of New Mexico, and he told me that practicing Spanish would make him use it more if he had someone with whom to practice. Maison is majoring in EMS Services, with a goal of becoming a Physician’s Assistant. We talked about how necessary it is for EMT’s and PA’s to communicate with their patients. Maison agreed, and he knew that being around other Spanish speakers in his field would help him become more fluent, as well as learn the more difficult terminology he would need. Maison, like so many other young adults, realizes the benefit of learning a foreign language.
When I was a freshman in high school, I chose to take French as my language to learn. All of the Spanish classes were full, and the students had to sit in those funny-looking carrel desks where they couldn’t see each other. Besides, the teacher was odd. . . Our narrow French books were red with French conversation on one side of the page and the translation on the back side of the other page.
Questions about the conversation and vocabulary and exercises followed on the subsequent pages. We listened to the conversations on a reel-to-reel Wollensack tape recorder/player and repeated what the speaker said. Miraculously, I learned the sentences’ structure, conversation, and vocabulary. I was on my way to learning French, and I loved it. From time to time, we would watch films (on Bell & Howell reel-to-reel projectors, not videos or digital projectors) about France and other nations where there were French speakers, and we learned about geography and history. Often we would read Paris Match magazine, French newspapers, and then translate some cultural pieces. I liked studying language because not everyone continued with it; it was something that not everyone could do.
I began taking French as an elective in college and later decided I would major in it. Another thing that further interested me was that I could read French and understand what I read. I also loved French movies. I was so passionate about foreign language that I later picked up Spanish. Even now, I will be up late ironing or looking on Netflix for a movie, and I will find French a film to watch. It is the same with Spanish movies. I have three Patricia Cornwell novels in Spanish on my Kindle right now and one Gabriel Garcia Marquez. These are pleasures that I really enjoy.
I want others to be interested in languages as well because there are so many benefits to learning and using a foreign language that people just don’t realize. Being trilingual always helped me to have job opportunities, even some jobs other than teaching. But now, the major benefit for me to keep up my language is to stave off early dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, I also love speaking with people at Wal-Mart and other places who don’t speak English well. I think they enjoy the courtesy of communication, and that makes me happy.