I started learning American Sign Language when I was in fourth grade after I read The Miracle Worker by William Gibson. I came home and told my parents that I had to visit the library to get books on sign language because I had to learn it right away. I explained that Helen Keller was Deaf and that there might be other people who communicated in different ways as well. I taught myself, and by high school, I had friends who were Deaf and was signing all the time.
In 8th grade, my school started foreign languages. We could choose Spanish, French, or Latin. I decided on Spanish, which I continued until my sophomore year of college. In 10th grade, I added French, which I took until my junior year of college. In my senior year, I took Latin II, skipping Latin I after passing the test with a 99%. I also took a semester of Chinese in college, which was made more challenging because I could not hear the tones very well.
I am now fluent in ASL and have continued to foster my love of languages throughout my adult life. I use Duolingo and take every language they offer. I also took Intro to Biblical Languages while at Regent and plan to continue with Greek. I love to learn languages and hope to here explain why this skill is so important.
According to the UEI college site, people who know more than one language can make up to 20% more in the same job than someone who only speaks one language. While there is more demand for some languages than others, knowing even two languages could greatly expand your work opportunities and help you move up the proverbial corporate ladder faster.
Many Americans do not seek to learn new languages, which limits their ability to engage with other cultures. For example, when I was an undergraduate at SUNY Cortland, my French professor, Madame Ponterio, told us that one of France’s most significant issues with America is that we think everyone should speak English because we do. In France, she told us, many locals will not acknowledge you if you don’t attempt to speak French. They often know English, but they believe that you should speak their language in their country. They will use English to help you if you try and can’t.
In the United States, I often hear people complain when someone speaks a language other than English. However, per the World Atlas, there is no official language in this country and there are currently 350 languages spoken in America. While English is the dominant language, there is a cultural awareness that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a new language.
Research has shown that learning a foreign language can lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s later in life. If you should develop Alzheimer’s, it will also help you continue without as many side effects for a longer period of time. The research explained that when you speak more than one language, you have to think about which word to use for the correct language when you switch back and forth. This process keeps the brain exercising. Bialystok, one of the researchers, shared that exercising doesn’t prevent Alzheimer’s, but it can help people handle the effects on their brains better. The research also showed that the benefits could happen at any point when learning a new language, not just for those who grow up in a bilingual household.
A Fun Hobby
Learning a new language can be a lot of fun. I use Duolingo, but many apps, sites, and other ways of learning a language exist. Knowing other languages can also help you make friends you wouldn’t have otherwise. When I was in high school, I was called out of class all the time because I was fluent in sign language, and the principal would ask me to interpret for the janitor at the school who was Deaf. I became friends with him because I could communicate with him. I also taught the other kids in the theatre to sign so they could play cards backstage without talking.
It can be difficult to learn languages, and some are more challenging than others. I have found Chinese and Hebrew the most challenging because I have trouble hearing them. My favorite languages are ASL, Spanish, French, and Greek. But while it may be difficult, I find it rewarding and enjoyable. My father once joked that I liked foreign languages because I like to talk and want to make sure everyone can understand. While he was joking, that is not untrue, I do like to talk to people, and I want them to understand me as best as possible. I don’t expect to be fluent in every language, but it’s nice to know a few words.