Our school language program has gifted us with an enormous treasure, and one that many people around the world yearn for. Unfortunately, it is greatly underappreciated in our community. At Ridgewood High School, each student is granted the opportunity to learn five other languages, in addition to studying English: Spanish, Latin, French, German, and Mandarin. High school students, with the chance to become bilingual learners, are presented with basic learning skills that, with time, can later develop and be utilized as valuable tools. Whether or not they decide to continue their exploration of a foreign language can greatly affect them in many ways.
As kids, everyone learns to listen, understand, read, and speak in their own native language. Growing up, it gradually becomes natural to speak and to converse with others who understand your words. However, as it becomes more challenging to grasp an entirely different language when you are already so accustomed to your native language, many individuals question the use of a foreign language and the benefits it could actually have in your future. As it turns out, a foreign language can bring many, many positive effects to one’s life, including opening up a person’s perspective of society, proving advantageous to one’s workplace or social environment, or simply being exposed to different cultures.
In a CNN tech article, “Bill Gates: ‘I Feel Pretty Stupid That I Don’t Know Any Foreign Languages,’” Gregory Wallace talks about Bill Gates’ Reddit chat where he admitted that he deeply regrets not continuing his foreign language education. While Gates expresses his admiration of Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to fluently speak Mandarin Chinese and do an impressive 30 minute Q&A with Chinese students, Gates was left speaking English when meeting the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and when cruising around Beijing with Warren Buffett. “I took Latin and Greek in high school,” exclaimed Bill Gates, “and got all A’s and I guess it helps my vocabulary but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese.” Admitting to being embarrassed at his lack of multilingual knowledge when meeting such an important figure in today’s world, Bill Gates shows how, even as the world’s richest man and as someone of extreme intellect, he struggles with his inability to communicate in other languages. Also, being a billionaire with nearly endless resources at his disposal and opportunities abound, his desire to be bilingual demonstrates the value of learning a foreign language.
The possibilities and benefits of learning a foreign language are endless and could even be considered crucial in today’s modern society where international communication is more efficient and common. Being able to fluently speak in multiple languages has its many benefits that some people fail to address. First and foremost, it expands the range of people you get to communicate with by a thousand times. Take Japanese, for example. By simply being able to read Japanese characters, you are now able to read over a million characters worth of books and knowledge. By being able to listen to Japanese, you are now able to watch anime without subtitles! Most importantly, by being able to speak and understand Japanese, you are able to talk to roughly a third times more people than you did before you knew Japanese.
A majority of people wish to travel and explore other parts of the world, whether it is merely to visit certain landmarks or to fully immerse themselves in another culture. By learning another language, you are allowing yourself to expand your horizons and truly interact with another culture. Travelling is made easy now that you don’t have to ask for translations of street signs and restaurant menus.
Also, business connections often require essential knowledge and understanding of another country’s language and lifestyle. In modern society, international business is growing more and more common as technology allows our daily lives to interact more overseas. Moreover, being multilingual with mastered fluency is definitely a compelling factor for college and/or job resumes. Being multilingual demonstrates a person’s ability not only to understand a foreign language, but also their desire to expand their own horizons by immersing himself in a new culture and language.
Of course, learning a foreign language does not simply mean memorizing vocabulary words and putting them into short-term memory, only to forget everything a week later. To fully master a language, one has to be fluent in conversations, not weekly grammar quizzes. The language education system at Ridgewood High School is outstanding in its attempts to introduce languages and cultures to students, but to be fluent is something more than that. By implementing a certain nonnative language and culture into your personal life, using your limited terms and vocab to construct an entire conversation, and applying your daily newfound knowledge into your everyday lifestyle, an individual’s fluency can be mastered and become a part of their everyday lives. With constant use and practice of a foreign language, anyone can pursue a second language and reap the myriad benefits that come along with it.
Graphics: Jessica Chang