Sí or Oui?

The importance of learning a foreign language and the downfalls of missing opportunities

Anam Vaziri, People Editor

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Bilingualism is one of the most useful skills a person can learn. I can personally confirm this. I speak two languages, and am currently learning a third. I learned Urdu from my parents while growing up in Pakistan, and I learned English as soon as I came to the United States. However, I know that not everyone has the privilege of having bilingual parents.

In my experience, being multilingual has helped me in a lot of ways that I wouldn’t have ordinarily expected. Living the first few years of my life in Pakistan, Urdu was technically the language that I learned first. When I first came to the U.S., I didn’t even know any English. However, with the background knowledge that I had, it was much easier for me to learn English than it could have been. Now, I consider English to be my first language because I’m more comfortable speaking it.

It has also been easier for me to learn other languages in school because of this. Not only has it helped me in terms of knowledge, but it has also opened me up to a more worldwide view of looking at things. Being able to communicate with people who lead different lives than you shows that just because someone is not like you, doesn’t mean it is impossible for you to understand them.

Why aren’t we giving ourselves the best opportunities possible?”

In my experience, learning a language before I reached adolescence was significantly easier than trying to learn high school Spanish. Studies show that it is less challenging to learn a language when you’re younger because learning a second language is part of a child’s brain chemistry. It is also because the younger kids are, the more motivation they have to learn.

Most foreign countries begin teaching foreign language when students enter first grade. In Europe, it is incredibly common for people to have learned up to four or more languages in their lifetime. I feel that American students struggle in this area partly because in most schools, particularly public ones, students begin learning language so late.
Why aren’t we giving ourselves the best opportunities possible? I think that in order to compete on a global level with everyone else, the first step is to not only be able to communicate with other people, but to understand them.

Another factor that I have noticed is that a majority of the population has the same mindset. Why should people bother learning a second language when they already know English? It is a common misbelief that solely knowing English is sufficient enough to communicate with people from other parts of the world. It is very easy to make the assumption that since the U.S. is a world power, the rest of the world would know how to speak English. However, only around 15-20% of the world is able to communicate in English. The more companies and businesses that go global, the more people will grow closer together. Not everyone is going to have the exact same background, hometown, or know the same language as you do.

The world is not as simple as black and white. There are people who are different, and the more that people stick in their ways and refuse to learn more things, the more they cut themselves off from the rest of the world. Wanting to travel the world is not enough; you need to be able to understand the people you meet once you get there.



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