opinion

COLUMN: We should try harder to break language barriers



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Freshman Hannah Glazier and sophomore Molly Kral talk March 20 in Franklin Hall. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

IU in general offers many opportunities to travel abroad, but these trips are not a vacation. You should take the time to immerse yourself in the language and culture and always remember you are stepping on someone’s homeland.

You may just be there for the week or for a semester, but the people will be there forever. How you portray yourself and IU on these trips may be one of the only firsthand ideas they ever get of our school and country, so make sure you do it justice.

For example, language barriers are something many people have had to deal with in their life when traveling, but it's how you deal with them and how they affect you that makes all the difference.

While I was in France for MSCH-X 478, commonly known as the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle course, this spring break, I felt nothing but guilt for not being able to speak more than a few words and phrases in French that I learned right before the trip. This was because the majority of the people we came across could speak English.

You might think that should make me feel more comfortable, yet it only made me feel discouraged and embarrassed that we don’t try harder as a nation to incorporate learning other languages into our daily lives.

If you live in the U.S., visit America or even pass through it, you will see that majority of people here speak only one language. We may take a few required classes in high school, but that’s usually the extent of it.

It has been proven that children learn languages more easily than adults. It makes you question why most high schools require a second language course but elementary schools don’t.

Americans have an expectation that everyone who comes to America must speak English because doing otherwise is rude and creates a language barrier that you just can’t get around. The funny thing is that we also expect everyone anywhere we go to speak English as well.

For a split second I found myself getting frustrated if I walked into a shop, and people didn’t speak English. That’s when I had to step back and remind myself that as an American, I traveled to their country and they are in no way obligated to do so.

Because of the political state we are in, it's easy for people in these countries to be leery and hesitant of Americans. We saw it happen multiple times when we would walk into restaurants, and their faces would immediately change once they realized where we were from. The thing is, not once did I ever blame them for it at all.

Luckily the group I was in was respectful the entire trip, but there were still instances where people were wary of us being American. For example, we got our fair share of glares and questions about Donald Trump.

In these instances, you have to use your politeness and cultural sensitivities to make sure they don’t just remember you as the rude Americans with a questionable president, but the group of respectable, polite students from Indiana University.

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