The Compelling “Why?” Continued

Posted on: Tue, 02/11/2020 - 09:00

This week’s guest bloggers are world languages teachers Lynne Griffin from Catoctin High, Nayibe Neuland from Tuscarora High, and Marcie Stutzman from Middletown High. They share their thoughts about responding to students asking, “Why do I have to learn this?”

Guest Blogger Lynne Griffin, world languages teacher at Catoctin High School

photo of CHS and NFES students
CHS Students interacting with Spanish-
speaking elementary students at North
Frederick Elementary.

Why study a foreign language? It is a question I ask my students on day one of Spanish class. Every semester students immediately answer with something along the lines of “my parents made me” or “I need the credit for graduation.” At this point, I ask students to go deeper. “Someone thinks it is important for you to learn a foreign language. Why?” The room is then filled with thoughtful responses such as “it will help me get a job,” “it improves my thinking,” “I can speak the language when I travel,” “it is fun,” etc.

All of the above are true, but in watching students’ language development I am most inspired by the mental shift I witness as they gain not just a language but a refined perspective of people and the world.  There is a cultural aspect intertwined with language learning that challenges students to see the world through others’ eyes. Yes, there are differences in food, music, and holidays, but those only touch the surface. Below the surface are values, attitudes, outlooks, and relationships that are all revealed in the foreign language itself. Language is not just words we use to communicate, rather it expresses how we interrelate, how we think, and what we value.  

I once heard a description that I feel perfectly describes the relationship between foreign languages and culture: “Foreign languages are a window into other cultures.” A window--something you use, a tool of sorts--that allows you to look through and see beyond. We could think of foreign language as a tool to see into the minds of others, to explore differences, and to see beyond our own misconceptions and stereotypes. What better way to expand our view of the world than to converse with someone in their native language? The human connections we make when speaking a foreign language enable us to not only gain a profound understanding of each other but also build tolerance, trust, and respect toward people who are different.

In the end, I believe the answer to the compelling “why” when it comes to studying foreign languages comes down to one word: connections. It is all about making connections within our world and our communities. Whether you travel to a foreign country or not, whether you use a foreign language in your future career or not, studying a foreign language changes your thinking, gives you perspective, and allows you to connect with others in a way you otherwise could not.

photo of CHS students
CHS student induction ceremony for Spanish Honor Society


Guest blogger world languages teacher Nayibe Neuland from Tuscarora High School

I believe a well-rounded education must include the opportunity to learn a foreign language. In my experience, becoming multilingual was a necessity and a blessing. Spanish is my native language. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and I began learning English as a second language in elementary school and at home. I attended my last two years of high school in Geneva, Switzerland, where I improved my high school French. After graduating high school, I moved to the United States to attend college as an English learner.

Language courses were always interesting to me, but as I advanced through the levels of my academic education, language classes became my passion. Language skills became the key to my successful career as a world languages teacher. Additionally, language skills have provided me a valuable tool to explore other places and people in the world.
Learning foreign languages brings people and societies together. Living in the United States and Europe opened my eyes to the discovery of a world much bigger than the one I knew as a child in Colombia. Conversing with people from other countries has opened my mind to accepting differences and respecting the cultural uniqueness of unfamiliar places and people. In today’s multicultural society, we need more than ever to communicate clearly. 

Learning a foreign language is a skill that, with practice, commitment and time, helps you discover the ability to connect with more people than you can imagine. It is a daily discovery of how to decode messages in the written, spoken and signing world. The process of learning a foreign language transfers to learning other subjects like science, math, art, dance, music, and many others.

Employees with multiple language skills are in high demand in the United States. We are surrounded by immigrants from many countries with different backgrounds speaking more than just one foreign language. In the business world, the ability to speak the target language allows for direct communication as the message is accurately delivered.
Additionally, learning a foreign language teaches people to respect others, to have an open mind to differing opinions, ideas, and views. Language is the personal connection to diverse cultures that we learn to appreciate without judgment or stereotyping.

Guest blogger world languages teacher Marcie Stutzman from Middletown High School

Sometimes people think the reason to study a world language is to get into college. My students and I have recently been talking about the real benefits of learning another language and why they really like it. Here’s what they say: 

Of course, studying a modern language allows you to order in an ethnic restaurant and communicate when you make a trip to Paris or wherever your adventures or study abroad take you. You could communicate here at home in Maryland with someone who comes from a different culture than yours.

But maybe that’s not you. Maybe you don’t plan to travel. And couldn’t you just use Google Translate if you wanted to say something in a different language?

My students say learning a new language is really about widening your perspective on life. If you can connect with the way that other people think about the big questions, or even little ones, like what kinds of polite expressions are important, it opens your mind and allows you to find a different way to think about things that might have seemed “natural” before.  Learning about other people’s language, food, music, and culture makes them more like people you know, friends you can relate to.

Learning a language sets you apart. Though being multilingual is common in many countries, it isn’t in the US. It is your passport as a global citizen, someone who will be able to contribute to an economy that spans the entire world. You may help the US to remain competitive in business and technology because you can work with people who live in other countries.

Finally, my students have found that another language “builds better understanding within yourself.” They say you’ll understand English better. You’ll enrich your English vocabulary; you’ll wonder about why we choose to express ideas one way instead of how it’s done in a different language. The connections in your brain will multiply, stretch, and grow. Language opens up new ways of thinking, puzzling together things that maybe don’t make much sense, but you can figure it out. It helps you to take thinking risks, make predictions, and confirm hypotheses--skills that everyone needs in daily life. 

World language study “melts down barriers” and opens your horizons. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?