The advantages of learning a second language

by Ariana Sadoughi. 0 Comments

If you were to ask any high school student what their favorite class is, they would probably reply with an elective class, such as art or gym, because the class is fun and stress-free. Sometimes they might answer that they like English class because narrative writing is fun, or science because they enjoy participating in labs. However, in my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever met a peer who would say that a foreign language is their favorite class.

I personally enjoy taking foreign language classes, and this is my fourth year taking Spanish at school. Over the years, the sizes of the classes that I have been in have dwindled as students have met the state requirement for foreign language classes and have stopped taking them. I do not necessarily think that students really don't like foreign languages; rather, they think that foreign languages can be difficult to learn. I agree that foreign language classes can be particularly challenging because they not only require one to learn new vocabulary and pronunciation, but they also have to learn new language and grammatical rules in a second language.

Nonetheless, learning a new language is really important now more than ever because more people from different countries are interacting with each other in close proximity. There is no universal language so it is important that we can communicate with people from other parts of the world as efficiently as possible. Teachers are always able to rattle off countless reasons as to why we should learn a second language but I never really appreciated taking Spanish classes until I actually had to use my Spanish.

This past summer my family and I traveled to Puerto Rico for a family vacation. While in the process of choosing a place for our vacation, I kept asking my parents if we could go somewhere where they spoke Spanish. I had just finished Spanish 4 and I really wanted to practice speaking Spanish with native speakers. I knew that having taken Spanish 4 didn't make me fluent in Spanish, however I wanted to try my best to put what I knew to use.

Little did I know, but I would be using my Spanish in a situation that I never expected. My family and I had just boarded our plane to San Juan and I was getting really excited to see the rainforest, El Yunque, and to see the Puerto Rican beaches. My brother, my dad, and I were sitting together, and my mom was across the aisle.

All of a sudden, my mom leaned over and asked me to go talk to the little boy behind her who was crying. My first thought was, “Wait, why is she asking me to?” I had been so deep in thought that I never even realized that there was a screaming boy a few feet away from me. The boy was seven years old, flying alone to Puerto Rico, only spoke Spanish, and was seated on a plane with a bunch of tourists who only spoke English.

For some reason I was really nervous to talk to the boy, but he seemed so upset that I decided that I needed to forget about my silly anxieties. Standing in the middle of the aisle, I talked to the boy for a minute and was able to understand a few words out of his incoherent babbling. Later I tried to reassure myself that I might not have been able to understand even if he was speaking English.

A native speaker of Spanish sitting a few rows ahead of me came over and talked to the boy and was able to figure out that he was just upset about being alone and wanted to land in “The Other Puerto Rico.”

I ended up switching my seat so that I was seated next to him. He showed me a picture of his family and told me about his brother and dad. He told me he visited “no one” in the United States and that he didn’t like soccer, but he liked going to school. I remembered that I had my iPod with me, and I asked him if he wanted to play a game. I was able to explain the games that I had in a very basic way, and at this point, he had actually stopped crying. He played the games on my iPod for a while and although he didn’t seem too happy, he definitely was in a much better emotional state. The only time he smiled or laughed was when he used the bathroom; he thought the sound of the toilet was hilarious.

Unfortunately, he did start to cry again with about an hour left of the flight. This time, I wasn’t able to calm him down, and he eventually fell asleep and slept for the remainder of the flight.

I should probably comment on the fact that not once did a flight attendant check on him. A seven-year-old, unaccompanied minor who was crying was left to the passengers to comfort. This really bothered me, but the experience did help me appreciate my Spanish classes. We weren’t able to communicate perfectly, and sometimes he looked at me like I was crazy, but we tried our best considering he spoke no English and I’m not fluent in Spanish.

I actually thought I was really clever when I set my iPod’s language to Spanish, but then he told me couldn’t read.

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to Puerto Rico. As cheesy as it sounds, I learned two important things from this vacation. First of all, when I went back to Spanish class this year, I realized that I had confused the verbs “to cry” and “to rain.” You can imagine how that went in conversation! Secondly, I learned language classes have many benefits, and knowing a second language can allow you to help others is one benefit that is often overlooked. I would never regret taking Spanish classes, and I definitely know that I want to continue on this pursuit.

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Ariana Sadoughi writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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