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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Learning a second language is a worthwhile investment

We all have a mother tongue and, if we’re lucky, we acquire a second or third one throughout our lifetimes. Once we begin the path to learning a new language, however, the process proves to be rather challenging, unfamiliar and gradual.

Many students at the UA are required to learn a foreign language. Some of the most common ones that students pursue are Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese.

Many students take Spanish or French because they had exposure to the language in high school and figure the college class will therefor be an easy A.

Many students who take Italian may do so because they enjoy the musicality of the language and the sprezzatura that it embodies.

Some students who take German may do so because a relative speaks it or because they may wish to reconnect with their roots, while others who take up Japanese may do so because they are intrigued by Japanese culture.

What vexes me, however, is that most students who take foreign language simply go through the motions to get that easy “A,” only to come out hardly fluent. They usually can’t get past the basics when communicating.

For some, foreign languages are easier to learn than others. Yet in this ever-growing global economy, attaining fluency in a foreign language is an asset, even if it’s fluency in a less common language such as Poqomchi’ or Tatar.

The main reason why students in the U.S. lack the motivation to learn a foreign language is because English is undoubtedly their mother tongue, especially considering that English is an international language and one of many used in business, diplomacy and government abroad.

They figure since they know English, they don’t have to bother learning a foreign language because the rest of the world either speaks English or is learning it, which is convenient for them. Or maybe they’ve yet to discover a foreign language they’re passionate about.

Studies show learning a foreign language improves the elasticity and memory of your brain and also reduces the likelihood of developing diseases like dementia.

Another reason to learn a foreign language is sticker price. In some countries or regions, natives pay less than non-natives, a phenomenon known as tourist pricing. For example, in Costa Rica, Costa Ricans pay less for zoo prices than tourists based on residency cards. While in Thailand, unless you know how to read Thai, you could end up paying double.

With how connected we are by the Internet, all it takes to start learning a foreign language is a few clicks. There are plenty of options ranging from Skype tutoring sessions with a native to obtaining digital resources on grammar and vocabulary in any language.

Today, there is no reason why you can’t watch a few YouTube videos on the top 10 most common Farsi phrases or how to make different clicks in Xhosa. There’s even Reddit threads for people wanting feedback on their pronunciation in the language they’re learning. Thanks to the Internet, learning a foreign language has never been easier.

Nevertheless, the UA offers many languages other than just Spanish and Japanese. It also offers Arabic, Turkish, Thai, Kurdish, Modern Greek, Swahili and so many other languages just waiting for students to begin learning them.

The Arabic language program at the UA offers the Arabic Flagship Program, which gives students intensive language and cultural instruction, and also provides short- and long-term advanced language and cultural immersion overseas at Arab universities. The program also supports students via scholarships and language immersion internships, and gives them opportunities to gain professional-level language proficiency.

While learning a foreign language is indubitably a challenge that requires time, the overall benefits are worthwhile. The cultures and identities that encompass languages enrich students’ understandings of the rest of the world.

The first step to learning a language with the goal of attaining fluency, not just an easy “A,” is finding one that sparks passion that stems from not only the language itself, but from the culture tied to that language.

Learning a foreign language is fulfilling because with a new language comes a new culture and a new way to look at the world.

Follow Michael Cortez on Twitter.

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