In this world of Google Translate and subtitles, it might not always feel like learning to truly understand and speak a foreign language 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 a language 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.