I confidently believe that learning a second language is one of the best decisions you can make. I am studying International Political Economy, and two language courses are required for my degree. However, after taking the introductory level Spanish courses I decided to use my elective courses to complete a Minor in Spanish. I continue to realize the benefits of this beautiful journey, but the most evident outcomes have been a broadened understanding of the world and a platform that has enabled me to form incredible relationships.
It is a blessing to be a native speaker of one of the most universal languages in the world, but I think that it can produce a complacency within many English-speakers who don’t see a need to learn another language. I have been guilty of this on multiple occasions when I visited a new country and I depended on the locals to speak to me in English. In retrospect, I can see that I missed incredible opportunities to learn more about different cultures but also about the world. Culture and language are inherently intertwined, and your brain is stretched in new and profound ways when you encounter a word or phrase that has no direct translation in English. Your perspective is grown, and your capacity to learn about new places and people exponentially increases.
Learning a new language has also provided me with the tools to develop new relationships. This was apparent this past summer when I went to Brazil with the TWU Men’s Volleyball team. Initially, I was disappointed to be visiting one of the only non-Spanish speaking countries in South America, but it was a multi-sport tournament with 11 North and South American countries represented so I ended up having multiple opportunities to speak Spanish. It was one of my highlights of the summer to sit down for dinner with a soccer player from Mexico, a basketball player from Uruguay, or a tennis player from Colombia and see their faces when I started a conversation in their language. By the end of the tournament I had new friends from Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, and Chile! It was beautiful to see how quickly my new friends warmed up when they recognized the effort I was putting in to communicate, and this led to some meaningful conversations. Now back in Langley, I always look for opportunities to talk to people in Spanish because communication goes far beyond my limited vocabulary and is a tangible expression of interest in their culture and in their life.