The Importance Of Keeping Your Native Language Alive
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Politics and Activism

The Importance Of Keeping Your Native Language Alive

The history, passion, and soul of your culture lives in each word you speak in your native tongue.

The Importance Of Keeping Your Native Language Alive

Language is more than a way to communicate with others. Imbued in it are the customs, traditions, and passions of a certain culture. Through language, histories of a people, a way of life, are passed down in nuanced ways. The identity, the soul, of a group of people resides in the syncopated and unique vocalizations of their native tongue. Sadly, not many people feel that way.

As the son of Latino immigrants to this country, I was raised in a bilingual household. I spoke a Spanglish that was so coherent and grammatically correct that I wasn’t able to speak “normally” until I was about six. Thanks to my parents, I learned both English and Spanish simultaneously, and was able to read and write in both languages fluently at a young age. But once I got to middle school, I started noticing that not all my fellow Latinos were equally capable of navigating both languages.

It was funny to me at first to hear my friends struggle to utter the most basic sentences in Spanish. In high school my friends were amazed at how well I spoke Spanish, especially because I had developed a Central American accent. But once I got to college the stuttering and stammering wasn’t funny anymore.

There are many reasons why a person doesn’t learn their parent’s native language. In many cases, immigrant parents advise their children to speak only English. They don’t want their children to face the same problems that they did when they first came. In other cases, children of immigrant parents refuse to speak their native tongue because they fear they’ll be mocked at school. Sometimes parents just don’t pass down the language at all.

While there are cases where the child has no control over whether they speak their family’s native language, I have to say that willingly not bothering to learn the language your family speaks is not only a social detriment, but also culturally irresponsible.

To start off, there are many advantages to being bilingual. You are able to communicate with entire populations you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. You also open yourself up to understanding global issues with a deeper understanding. In a New York Times article from 2012, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee cites two research where it was shown that bilingual individuals had higher cognitive function than monolinguals. And for those not convinced by the science, it’s always nice to be able to walk into an ethnic restaurant and order the food in the original language.

Now, how about not learning your family’s native language being irresponsible? While there are languages that may not be on the edge of becoming extinct, there are many that are. Consider the indigenous languages of southern Mexico. Consider the possibly thousands of languages from the African continent. Think about the dialects of the Middle East and even Europe. These are linguistic treasures. Certain cultures had no written language, so when that language ceases to be spoken, in essence, that culture, that history, and that people die out. Then there are the languages that can be traced back thousands of years. They were spoken by Mayan kings and queens. There are languages that were spoken by the earliest slaves that told their story.

Language is an interactive being. It must be spoken, and then interpreted by another. There is an attempt to make oneself clear and then an attempt to correctly decipher what was said. Nelson Mandela made it clear how powerful these everyday interactions can be. He believed that “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Language resonates in our hearts. It allows us to connect to our ancestors. It gives us a sense of community with people who we don’t know but may have similar life experiences with. To lose that is to lose a piece of yourself.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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