Language: A Barrier and a Bridge

William - Greenwood Village, Colorado
Entered on October 22, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

Estoy tratando de aprender castellano. I am trying to learn Spanish. Right now, very few people in the United States learn foreign languages, and this acts as a barrier between us and the rest of the world. I believe that the United States will never be perceived as part of the world community unless more of its citizens learn foreign languages. We need to build bridges instead of isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.

Last summer, I was lucky enough to spend about a month in Salta, Argentina. In my time in Argentina, I learned some Spanish, but I also learned how much of a barrier language can be. One of my memories in Argentina that demonstrates the language barrier was a conversation I had with an Argentinean my own age. We were in an empty warehouse with loud music playing, and he spent the better part of an hour trying to ask me about my life in the United States. Although he had to repeat each question several times, we were able to determine that despite the eleven hour plane ride that separated our homes, certain aspects of our lives were very similar. We both listen to similar music, we both study similar subjects in school, and we both enjoy playing “fútbol”. After our conversation, I realized that if I had spoken the language fluently we could have learned a lot more about each other. My lack of fluency in Spanish was a barrier to us really getting to know each other.

Experiences like this show me that language is not only a great barrier, but also a cultural bridge. Many people outside of the United States think that people that live here are arrogant and inconsiderate. One example of arrogance in the United States was also pointed out to me in Argentina where whenever I said, “I’m from America”, they would say, “So are we”. The fact that we call ourselves “Americans” and our country “America” demonstrates the arrogant attitudes shown by many United States citizens. As I have learned Spanish, I have tried very hard to rid myself of any arrogance and to improve what people in other countries in the world think about the United States. It seems to me that having people from the United States learn another language is the key to fixing this negative opinion of the United States in the rest of the world. Even with my limited Spanish language skills, I probably convinced my friend that I did not fit his stereotypes of people from the United States. If everyone in the United States made an effort to overcome the language barrier, they could act as cultural ambassadors and bridge the growing gap between the United States and the rest of the world.