In this world of Google Translate and subtitles, it might not always feel like learning to truly understand and speak foreign languages is worth the extra effort or even necessary. You may ask yourself, Why should I learn a new language if most people I encounter have a basic understanding of English anyway? But here’s a quote from Nelson Mandela that really shaped the way I approach my language-learning: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” WOW. Is that not motivating?
As I progressed through my rather uncommon path of taking classes on two separate IB Language B tracks—SL French B and HL Spanish B—I began to refocus the goal of my language studies from one based on technicality to one founded on familiarization. After all, even if I was the very best at completing fill-in-the-blank conjugations and reciting vocab, how far would that actually take me when I, a lifeguard and an aspiring physician, needed to tell a Spanish-speaking child to stop climbing the railings at the pool or came face-to-face with a native French patient? From what I’ve seen and experienced, not far enough.
One could call getting top grades in their French class a success—for a long time, that was my goal too, and to a certain extent, it definitely is—but I’ve come to the realization that obtaining a TRUE fluency in languages calls for more than a mere understanding of grammar conventions and a reservoir of random vocabulary. Rather, true fluency in a language calls for cultural understanding, a grasp of native linguistic nuances, and consistent practice.
So whatever your career aspirations and life goals may be, I want to encourage you to consider sincerely devoting time and effort into your language studies, for even in this rapidly developing world of high-tech tools and instantaneous results, the slow and consistent process of truly learning a language and the ultimate fluency you will acquire can unlock so many more opportunities to form deeper relationships and diverse communities.