I believe in language. In speaking. In reading. In writing. In listening. It should not be a barrier. I believe in language’s ability to bridge cultures.
On my first trip abroad, I was a curious fourteen-year-old in Spain for two months. It thrilled me to be able to use my then limited Spanish skills to find the supermarket, the school I attended, the internet café, and, after four days of searching, the post office. I found that when I had only my Spanish on which to rely, I quickly learned how to speak. I stopped needing to prop my Spanish up with hand movements, and my Spanish propped me up. The conversations with my host mother informed my thinking on clothes, Catholicism, and siestas. I saw the Alhambra, the famous Moorish castle in Granada, and the old synagogues in Sevilla. I went to a bull fight in Málaga. Learning a language in the classroom is good. But living a language surpasses that experience.
I loved being able to read easily and write eloquently in Spanish. Still, my thirst was not quenched, and may never be quenched. The very next summer as a fifteen year-old I went to Guatemala and Costa Rica to live with another host family and do volunteer work in schools. This coming summer, I’m going to Chile for two months. I love the Spanish language because it is my door into the Spanish culture.
Now I take the hard Spanish classes. I get to read stories by Márquez, Martí, Allende, and Storni. We get to listen to music that makes social commentary on the state of North and South America in the 1970s. We write essays giving our opinions on the effects electronics have had on today’s youth. I have a whole new set of authors, singers, politicians, countries, and traditions to learn about. I know where to get good Oaxacan food, and that Oaxaca is not pronounced Oh-ax-ica. I know slang words from various Latin American countries, and when to be careful with them; in Spain, qué mono means “how cute,” but when I used this phrase to describe my Guatemalan host mother’s grandchild, I unintentionally likened the baby to a monkey.
Best of all, I have a whole slew of new friends –and not just those from my travels, but at home, in my school. I sit next to a Mexican girl in history class and we discuss Felipe Calderón’s actions concerning Mexico’s drug problem. I can speak to my Guatemalan friends in English class in Spanish about their weekends.
I belong in two worlds now –the English speaking world and the Spanish speaking world. One day, I’ll join the Italian speaking world. And you name it. French or German. Portuguese or Farsi. Hebrew or Arabic. There is so much to know about the people who surround us, and the only way to begin to understand them is to know their language.
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