I remember my first ever Spanish class in high school, I only took it because I already took a German class in middle school, and I absolutely hated it. So, if figured that Spanish was the lesser of the two evils. I remember the anxiety about learning a foreign language like the back of my hand. I was so worried that I wouldn't understand anything, and I didn't at first. My teacher was fantastic, but it did not take away from the fact that I was terrified of the material itself, so I just got through it and told myself that I would never take another foreign language class ever again. Now, I feel very, very different, and here is why.
I have fallen madly, deeply, and inconceivably in love with the Spanish language.
There was a speaker at a foreign language event I went to in college that said "you reach more people using the language of their heart, not their mind", and that really stuck with me. Why is it that the United States does not encourage anyone to learn more than one language? It is insanely common in other countries for people to speak more than one language. But here, there is simply no desire or "need" for it because "everyone can speak English in the US". English is what language experts like to call a "lingua franca," or common language. This means it acts as a way to communicate between people who don't share a native language. While this is true, I firmly believe it is still not a valid excuse not to learn another language.
So many think that learning a language is simply learning how to read, write, and speak, but it is so much more than that. Language is about connecting with people. It brings us together in ways other things cannot. It is essentially a bridge between cultures, traditions, and customs. Spanish has opened a lot of doors for me. I am certainly nowhere near fluent yet, I'm still learning and growing and absorbing every last bit of this new language I can. It is quite funny actually, I've noticed that when you make an effort to learn someone else's language, they will want to interact and get to know you better. I have met so many beautiful, funny, and interesting people and made more lasting friendships because I can speak a little Spanish. Not only that, I have learned so much about Latin America, and so much about my own country as well. I now realize that the world is not so big, and that language can be the one thing that makes it smaller and smaller. Learning another language gave me a new perspective that I never even thought about. Now, I dream of the day where I've mastered not one, not two, but three or more languages.
I do realize that learning other languages is not for everyone, and that's okay. I'm not telling you that you need to go learn Chinese, or French, or German right now. I'm just sharing my positive experience in the hopes it will broaden people's minds a little bit more. I hope that people take into account how important language is for people. It is part of their identity, their culture, their way of living. So, please, next time you see a person on the bus or the street or wherever speaking in their native language, do not demand that they stop. Do not tell them they should speak English because everyone else does. Do not take away something that is a part of who they are because you can't understand them.
I choose to pursue multilingualism because I want to understand people, and I would like them to understand me as well. Learning a foreign language has given me the yearning to learn and grow as a human being, and I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world.