The Importance of Learning a Second Language

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When I first applied to the IB Program at Strawberry Crest, I was not thrilled about the idea of taking foreign language classes for four years. My only previous experience with learning a foreign language consisted of taking a Spanish class once or twice a week in elementary school and watching cartoons like Handy Manny. However, I knew I had to learn a new language if I wanted to pass IB. With that in mind, I chose Spanish as the language I would learn for the next four years. Two years after my first Spanish class, I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity of learning a new language, and I recommend that you take a foreign language class next year even if you’re entering university.

In the United States alone, close to 70 million people speak a language other than English at home. Despite this, only 20% of American students took a secondary language class in 2017, compared to over 90% of European students. At a time when countries’ economies are more interconnected than ever, the United States lags behind as it needs citizens fluent in multiple languages for trade, diplomacy, and security. While this seems bad, there are numerous opportunities available to the few American students who commit to learning another language. According to a former Department of Education deputy who specialized in foreign languages, 20% of our jobs rely on international trade, and this does not even count the jobs related to interacting with American citizens who do not speak English as a first language. If you can speak multiple languages, you have a better chance of finding success as a chef, doctor, nurse, teacher, or marketing manager- all of which are quickly growing jobs.

Secondary language classes can also help you out in school. Numerous studies show that American students who take foreign language classes perform better in school, especially in English classes. Other studies suggest that learning another language will help you improve your score on the SAT. One possible reason for this is that bilingual children typically have more advanced cognitive development that children who only speak one language. In other words, learning another language can literally make you smarter.

To gain a better perspective on the matter, I interviewed Señora Maddrey, who teaches Spanish and French here at Strawberry Crest. As a girl raised in Honduras, she spoke Spanish as her first language and learned French at her school. Later, she moved to the United States, learning English in the process and became a teacher. When discussing the importance of learning a second language, Señora Maddrey stated “now there is a need everywhere to learn foreign languages, because it’s not just to travel around, but also for work… to have an open mind and to understand each other.” Both of her daughters speak at least two languages, and she credits this for their success in finding work; one works as a nurse and the other in banking. She explained that they were hired “not exactly because of their grades but because they are bilingual. You are able to reach out to more people in any career you want to pursue (if you are bilingual).” One of her students even sent her an email in fluent Spanish, telling her that he works in a church in Mexico. Another former student of Señora Maddrey works at a firm in Argentina, which was only possible because of the Spanish skills she learned.

In addition to better financial opportunities, Señora Maddrey told me that learning a new language exposes a person to new cultures and expands his/her worldview. When I asked if learning a new language changes a person’s mindset, she said, “it doesn’t change, it just opens.” However, she believes the best thing about learning foreign languages is “the connection with people.” “We are all the same,” she said. “We are all humans, and even though we all have different ideas, we will understand each other better and share our ideas, share our dreams, and share our passion for this world.” Perhaps this is the best reason that you should learn a new language- you will improve not just yourself, but the world around you.