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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: Why learning a second language can change the way you view the world

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Learning a second language changed my life. Since I started my journey with Spanish, I’ve immersed myself in new cultures, customs, ideas and beliefs that were different than anything I have previously known. This presented me with the current flaws I believe the U.S. school system currently holds.

The American education system differs from that of other countries, where students are often required to learn a second language (namely English). Due to the vast size of the United States and the fact that English is the first language of most Americans, many of us never end up learning a second language. Behind this reality, however, studies have shown many people regret not learning a second language. Of those who didn’t learn a second language, 70% regret not doing so. Out of the 50 U.S. states, as well as Washington D.C., New Jersey, New York and Michigan do not require high school students to take a foreign language class to graduate.  

However, just because we can get away with only speaking one language, doesn’t mean we should. It's critical we learn a second language because the benefits outweigh the time and effort exponentially. Learning a new language can provide us with new and insightful perspectives on everyday life. 

When one begins the language-learning process, their brain experiences positive neurological changes. For example, bilingual people have been proven to have more neurons and dendrites, which are the receiving parts of the neuron, than people who speak only one language; these help overall brain function and system coordination. Learning a foreign language is a mental workout that engages parts of your brain you may not use often. This process requires your brain to soak in new information and process it quickly – this is why children are better at learning and retaining languages, as your brain is more flexible the younger you are. 

Another benefit of learning and practicing another language is absorbing culture and life outside your typical “bubble.” A popular and proven method of language learning has always been to insert yourself into whatever culture speaks the language you’re studying. Students can do this by studying abroad, volunteering in communities that speak different languages and finding opportunities to interact with those who are different from us. This exercise alone allows your brain to open up to try to understand foreign sounds, but also opens your mind up to allow in new cultures, ideas and beliefs.  

As a student of Spanish myself, I have taken a great interest in Latin American history and culture. I would never have found such a profound interest without first studying Spanish. Studying the culture of the people who speak the language you’re learning enables you to learn new things, hear new ideas and even experience culture shock, which is wonderful and necessary.  

When you travel or experience a new culture significantly different from your own, you may experience culture shock. This is a common phenomenon that can affect individuals who encounter at least one fundamental difference in the culture they are exposed to. While this can be frightening or disorienting at first, it can help you better understand human nature. Maybe the culture you think is “weird” is actually inventive and brilliant, or the place you never thought you’d visit is instead a personal paradise. All of these thoughts can counter ethnocentrism, which is the preconceived notions one may have of a culture or society based on the standards or experiences within their own culture.  

Learning a second language is an imperative experience. There are many resources available for those learning a foreign language, especially here at IU, and you never have to take this journey alone: people just like you are changing their lives every day by making the same decision. Increase your worldliness, brain capacity and understanding of the world: learn another language. 

 

Vincent Winkler (he/him) is a freshman studying sociology.  

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