I have been surrounded by different languages since I was a child.
My childhood neighbors in New York were from Bangladesh, so I learned a little Bengali. It was a requirement in my high school to learn a foreign language, so I took French for a year – don’t ask me if I remember, I forgot everything except how to say “J’aime la plage” . My family is also Muslim, so I hear Arabic when they pray. My mother and her family are from Jamaica, so I understand Patois. My sister and my friends speak Spanish, so when I return home to North Carolina, I’m constantly surrounded by Spanish people — also because there’s a large Spanish-speaking community there.
I was so fascinated to hear other languages and see how people can communicate with each other that it led me to watch a lot, and I mean a lot, of language learning videos. My YouTube search bar consists of the words “polyglot” and “Arabic” as I search for ways to improve my study of the language, even watching TV shows and movies to pick up more vocabulary.
Once I transferred to Pitt my sophomore year, it was a requirement for me to take a language. I chose Mandarin Chinese to learn because I have always been intrigued to watch movies, shows, and listen to music in Mandarin. I’ve been learning the language for two years now and am now pursuing it as a minor – first because I spent so much time on it, second because I enjoyed learning about the language and culture so much. I also started learning Spanish to try to communicate with my closest friends.
Ever since I started wanting to learn languages, I felt there were two main reasons why it was important:
Good for brain development
A study of National Institutes of Health showed how bilingual children could switch tasks faster than monolingual children by using different colors and pictures of animals. The researchers said that when children were asked to switch from animal to color and press a different button for the new category, bilinguals were quicker to make the switch than monolinguals.
As a kid, I know I felt overwhelmed when my dad, grandma, or sister asked me to do many different things, so I would be behind on every task at hand. Meanwhile, children who start learning another language, especially at a young age, are able to differentiate and switch tasks depending on their situation. So I could have done better if I had the skills that learning several languages provides.
Also, according to the World Economic Forum, learning a language can help prevent the development of dementia, and being bilingual can help the brain perform tasks better and improve multitasking. As we age, we want to maintain our brain health. I know that once I get older, I want my brain to stay as sharp as it is now in college, and I hope language learning will help me achieve that.
the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages also declares that learning another language can increase both long-term and short-term memory function, which further implies that learning more than one language can be very beneficial.
Being able to communicate with people
During my language learning journey, I have learned that certain words, expressions and idioms are better expressed in this language or do not translate into English. As someone who wants to pursue magazine journalism, I know I will meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Learn different languages or multilingualismcan help break down language barriers when meeting people who speak different languages.
Language learning is great fun, and contrary to popular belief, it can be easy. Now, I’m not saying you’ll be fluent in a day, but with motivation, discipline, and practice, you’ll be able to speak, read, and write in your target language sooner than you think. Many applications like Duolingo, Drops and Memorize can guide the first steps of your language journey. I use these apps when I want to brush up on my Chinese once a week, and now I use them to learn Spanish.
I want to travel the world and report on global issues in different countries. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and learning languages so I can understand and interact with more of the world – and so can you. Taking language classes or studying abroad can be expensive, but at home, immersing yourself in the language and culture is achievable. You have already started and you did not realize it.
Ashanti McLaurin primarily writes about black culture, human injustices, and life advice. Write to him at [email protected].