Language is one of the most important methods of communication we have with others. It's the way that we express our needs, wants, desires, love, and friendship. Language is the way that we interact, it's one of the ways that we connect and share experiences with others as well. It's something so simple that the majority of us take for granted, having the ability to tell someone you love them or thank someone who does something nice for you. Using language solves problems, it breaks barriers and it gives people the opportunity to share their internal thoughts with the outside world…
But there's only one problem when it comes to this dream reality: we don't all speak the same language.
In the world, there are roughly 6,500 languages that people speak. This doesn't include all of the dead languages that were once spoken by ancestors and all of those before us. 6,500 languages, 6,500 different ways that people communicate together. It's a little crazy, isn't it?
Even if you have some of the best navigation skills in the world, if you were dropped into a random country where you didn't understand the language, you'd have a pretty hard time, right? If you want to ask someone a question you're forced to try to speak with your hands or try to speak slowly to try to get a native speaker to understand you. Despite the fact that you might look similar, or the fact that you're both humans doesn't mean the two of you have the ability to interact with each other using words and language.
That's just mind-boggling.
Learning languages has always been something I've had an interest in. Being forced to take Spanish in elementary school didn't really seem like anything out of the ordinary, it just seemed like another task. Once I hit middle school I fell in love with the language. Learning vocabulary, as well as tidbits of Hispanic culture, were some of the highlights of my days. It was one of those classes I never wanted to miss. This trend continued into high school. Though I missed an opportunity that could have excelled me forward and fast-tracked my Spanish (taking IB Spanish) I decided to go with the different approach, one that didn't just force me to sit there and learn vocab. I was able to take a class about Spanish culture and heritage as well as learn about things such as literature and art, things I wouldn't have learned in an IB course.
AP Spanish was like a flash of color. Being forced out of my comfort zone, having to speak a language that wasn't second nature to me was scary. It was scary having to stare at my peers, the majority of them native speakers, and share the same story as them. It was intimidating, but seeing them understand my thoughts made it all worth it in the end.
Entering college, I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I chose a major and went with it, figuring I could choose something else later on if I changed my mind. During my first semester, I took a Spanish course so I could hopefully choose to minor in it and I fell in love all over again. My professor made me change my major to Spanish, leaving behind the dreams I never really cared about to begin with. From there, my second semester consisted of more Spanish and linguistics, a required course I needed as a Spanish major.
In the beginning, I never really thought much about it. The way our mouths move, the way we produce sound. Those things always seemed fairly straightforward, but it was the broader idea that struck me. Taking anthropology at the same time as linguistics was really my best downfall. I fell too far down the rabbit hole of discovering more about people, the way that people use language to communicate. The way that we speak changes the way we think and the way we interact with the world. Even if you speak the same "language" as someone you might not be able to understand them due to dialect differences, but two people who speak completely different languages might be able to have a full-on conversation. The idea was wild to me.
And so, as the story goes, I switched my major again.
Of course. The indecisive girl who has nothing to lose switches her major yet again with some frail attempt to grasp onto the idea of reality and life after college. At least I can say I love it here in my little linguistics home.
My language resume is only set to increase. Currently as I sit here I'm learning three different languages: Spanish, Japanese, and Old English (think Yee Old English and then a little older than that). These languages though they might seem so different and diverse because well, they are, hold so much knowledge that I'll never be able to fully grasp.
People tell me I'm crazy for taking three different languages courses, but when I looked at my schedule I as nothing but excited. I was immediately looking forward to soaking up new vocabulary and ideas, new cultures and new methods of communication.
Communication doesn't only come with words, and nor does language. Language can come in the way we carry our bodies, for example in Japanese culture it's customary to bow to people you interact with and the lower you bow the more formal it is. Despite the fact that there are no words involved, you're speaking with your body. The tone you carry only progresses into the language you carry.
Why wouldn't you want to learn another language? Why wouldn't you want the ability to communicate with others? Those are two questions that have always struck me, especially with the culture of the United States.
A cultural melting pot of different languages and experiences, yet today in our society the thought of teaching languages other than English is preposterous because "English is the superior language" or whatever else they're saying. It's true that English is widely used around the globe, but why does that mean that kids should be prohibited from learning more, broadening their horizons? Language opens up a part of the brain that can flourish when given the opportunity, and all of those opportunities are slowly dwindling away here in the states.
I look at the countries in Europe which require their students to take three to four languages that aren't their native language and I can't help but admit I'm a little jealous. I wish I'd grown up in an environment that stimulated me and my ability to speak other languages. After all, who wants to be the foreigner in a country halfway across the world pulling out an English-Other language dictionary on the street to ask where a bathroom is? I don't think anyone wants to be like that...
If I had the ability to take one semester of every language course here, I would do it in a heartbeat. Even the ability to say "hello, how are you?" can make such a drastic difference in the way you see the world because you're looking at it from someone else's perspective.
Sure, it's not comfortable at first. Nothing is super comfortable when you first do it, though. Am I an expert in Japanese? Absolutely not. Quite frankly, it's been a struggle to wrap my mind around a language that's so different than anything I've ever experienced before, but I know that once my mind fully understand and everything clicks into place, a whole section of my brain is going to light up and it's going to help me pick up other languages faster in the future.
I love language. I love talking in other languages, I love the ability to learn more about people through languages. Language is so interesting because it's something we all have and we all understand but it's so different. The way that I form sentences here as I write this is different than the way I would write it in Spanish. The blue dog becomes the dog blue. Or what about in Japanese where the sentence order is different. Instead of the dog is blue it would be the dog blue is. Isn't that wild? Don't even try to get me started on explaining Old English…
If I could say one thing to sum up this whole story of words and characters is to take a language. Take Italian, French, German, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Greek, Latin, Sign language, Turkish, Zulu, anything. Just take one course and watch yourself grow. It's really a fantastic sight to see, and maybe even one day you'll love language as much as I do and decide to take three of them at once.