Cultural Perspectives on Multilingualism

When I was in high school, I did a presentation in the style of Pecha Kucha, in Spanish. It was all about the idea that monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century. To continue in that line of thinking, I decided to ask a Wittenberg Spanish professor about her views on learning another language from the perspective of being an American.

Dr. Mary Zuidema, also known as Dr. Z., Director of the LLC. She told me that it’s important to learn a language for so many reasons, not just because it opens you up to so many different perspectives.

“Language is like music,” Zuidema said. “When you speak one language, it’s like you’re only playing one instrument. It’s still beautiful, but when you can speak multiple languages, you start to hear a symphony.”

She told me about an experience she had in Spain. She was homesick and a little depressed, but she saw someone she’d never met reading a book in Spanish that she’d just finished in English. She started talking to the woman who was reading the book, and was so happy to have someone to talk to about it. It made her feel like she wasn’t alone in the foreign country.

I asked her what she thought about tourists who spoke the language of the country they visited, and she said that it could show the natives that there’s still hope for humanity.

I then shared an experience from when I visited France. We were given free ice cream, and I was the only one – or at least the first – to order in French. It was simple, just three words, “Mint chocolate, please” but I could tell that it surprised the people giving us the ice cream.

Yes, there are cliche phrases around the idea of learning other languages. “It opens up so many doors!” and “It’s a great way to understand what the ladies at the nail salon are saying!” but it’s so much more than that. By learning another language, you start to become immersed in a completely different culture from your own.

Yes, Wittenberg has a statement about us becoming global citizens, but by learning languages and history, we do so much more than just that. We have the ability and responsibility to pass that knowledge on to others and to refuse to allow history to repeat itself. We are the next generation to go into the workforce, whether we go to college or not, and we need to be better than the generations that have come before us.

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