I am a Caucasian female living in the suburbs in the United States. I was raised in an English-speaking household and went to an English-speaking school. I could probably live my entire life very easily only ever speaking one language.
However, for me, that just didn't seem right.
When most Americans leave the country, they expect that anywhere they go, people will adapt to their needs and communicate in their native language. It seems crazy for us to imagine that there may be people living in our own country that can't communicate in English. Many Americans are not even aware that America does not even have an official language.
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, as of 2010, about 79.9% of Americans spoke only English. According to Psychology Today, only less than 20% of the U.S. population is expected to be bilingual. In comparison, according to the 2012 Eurobarometers for Europeans and Their Languages, about 77% of people in the Netherlands, 67% of people in Slovenia, and 50% of people in Eastern European countries can comfortably speak three languages.
Something about this simply seems wrong to me. We are not that special. We should not expect everyone else to adapt to our own needs. Instead, we should work to begin understanding others. I am aware that speaking just two languages will not make me able to communicate with everyone, but it certainly will expand my capabilities.
I started seriously studying Spanish in 8th grade and it has been my favorite subject ever since. The language, the culture, the value of learning something so important has given me so much joy. Being able to reach a whole new population has so much value for me and so many others. I can confidently say that I will not be finding the derivative of an equation in my everyday life, but that I may be communicating with a Spanish speaker in my job each and every day.
I am studying to become a bilingual speech pathologist. This track is already a challenge on its own, so why must I insist on adding more? Well, my goal is to help others, and just imagine the expanded number of people I can reach if I speak a whole other language. Especially with the diversity we are lucky enough to have in America, the ability to speak a second language brings an invaluable privilege. The understanding of another culture is so special.
When I travel, being able to communicate with a citizen in their native language is an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. I may not be completely fluent yet, but even being able to carry a simple conversation is a life changing experience that I simply cannot describe. To understand and to be understood, it's magical.
Someday, I would love to be trilingual, and be able to communicate in English, Spanish, and ASL. The more people I can reach, the more people I can help. But for now, I can at least say that my abilities are beyond what they used to be, and I hope that someday yours may be too.