Every September, high school students
across America dread returning back to their language courses, but in my case,
it has blossomed into something that makes up a huge part of my identity. In
grade 7, I started exploring the French language. My interest in French started
as a hobby and developed into something much greater- I would refuse multiple
calls for dinner because I was so invested in watching French movies and
reading the magazine, Paris Match. At the time, I did not realize that learning
French would widen my lens on life completely.
I encountered this lesson upon
skimming through a French-English dictionary, eager to study everyday French
Goodbye=Au Revoir, House=La Maison.
However, one word in particular stood
out to me. The French word for our planet, Earth, was different from the
English name we use to describe it. The word is, “Le monde.” This completely twisted
my little 11 year old brain. What was so mind-blowing to me was that my home,
and the home of other human being, did not share a common name for it. My sense
entire of location was altered. What I learned from this experience was that
although every living being shares a common home, the language that we immerse
ourselves in as children is partly responsible for the blueprint of how one
person thinks in comparison to another.
One of my very first interactions with
the French language comes from the third grade when I had befriended a French-American
girl in my class, Kim. In my mind, I pictured an “average” French speaker with
white skin and light features. I still
fondly remember meeting Kim’s mother, a native Parisienne, whose appearance completely
contradicted the image I had in my mind of a French speaker. It threw me off guard.
For some reason, even though we had studied French colonization in Africa, it
never occurred to me that there were actually black people in France. In fact,
it never even occurred to me that anyone with a darker complexion than my own
could speak French at all! As you learn new languages and meet new faces, you
also learn the diverse culture behind them. This experience made a lasting
impact. I learned not to associate a certain image with a feature that a person
may have, and perhaps I also discovered my interest in language and culture.
Language and travel has also helped me
appreciate culture that strays beyond the white, English speaking kind, however
I learned this lesson through my studies in Spanish. I can recall hearing a
joke on my last trip to France that went something like this:
do you call someone who speaks multiple languages? Multilingual.
do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
do you call someone who speaks one language? An American.
Unfortunately, there is some truth behind this joke. My level in Spanish does not
extend far beyond what I was required to learn in the Lake Washington Public
School System because I decided to pursue French instead, but with my
conversational level in Spanish and annual trips to Miami, where my extended
family lives, I have picked up an appreciation for the language and culture. In
Miami, I discovered Latin music that wasn’t mariachi and Latin cuisine that wasn’t
tacos. I had fallen in love with the rich and vibrant Hispanic culture, but it
was only through travel and language that I truly learned its beauty by
experiencing it firsthand.