Two languages are better than one


Trevor Drew

“What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.”

A Cuban told me this joke while I was exploring the island on an NMU sponsored educational trip, and I felt a little embarrassed as the punch line struck me like a lightning bolt.
The Spanish-language institute, Instituto Cervantes, reported in 2015 that the United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world behind Mexico.
According to the same report, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the United States and 11.6 million who are bilingual for a total of 52.6 million.

Despite the huge number of Spanish speakers in the country, it seems that there is little to no emphasis on the importance of learning a second language.

If we want to be active members of the world, we must break from the idea that all languages aside from good ol’ English are inferior. In reality, globalization is only making the world smaller, and in order to understand and be understood, we must make an effort to become more diverse communicators.
As a high school student, I was less than enthusiastic when it came to my education, even more so toward the three years of foreign language classes I was required to take.

Every other day I’d stroll into Senora Kendall’s Spanish class, situate myself in the way back row and daydream about hacky-sacking and Frisbee, or whatever, while poor Senora Kendall probably grew frustrated with how little I, and other students, cared about something she devoted her life to.
For one assignment, we had to write an impromptu essay in Spanish about Spanish speaking artists. I remember getting that essay back only to find it slathered in shamefully red corrective ink and a note from Senora Kendall next to one of my sentences saying: “this is just disrespectful.” I had accidently wrote that I thought all of Pablo Picasso’s paintings should be destroyed.

This was the moment I counted myself as one of many in the United States that would go on to only speak English, and nothing more. While I’m disappointed in Trevor of the past, there is no reason to give up.

Here at NMU, various foreign language classes are offered, and on top of that, there are several foreign language clubs that offer casual membership.

This semester, I took Spanish 102 in an effort to make up for lost times. Although I am definitely far from fluent, I enjoy learning about the language and the culture of Spanish speaking countries.

As someone who has gone to a Spanish speaking country without knowing very much Spanish, I recommend breaking past your horizons and taking the opportunity to learn what it’s like somewhere besides the United States. In my experience, locals appreciate that you at least try to speak their language instead of just talking English at them.

It’s not easy, but think about this, there are toddlers that are bilingual. As the world grows, it’s imperative that we recognize the importance of learning foreign languages or we will be doomed to be a country of human dumb-dumbs.