Foreign languages offer more than just class credit

Christine Watridge

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Hello. Bonjour. Hola. Ni Hao. Konichiwa. Hallo. There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken worldwide today, although sometimes it feels English dominates the playing field.

Yet the Bay Area is actually home to some of the most ethno-racially and linguistically diverse cities in the country, according to the consumer financial education and information service WalletHub.

Redwood is currently teaching only two languages: French and Spanish. What happened to Mandarin, the most common language in the world? Or Hindi and Arabic, the fourth and fifth most spoken languages?

I admit that budgetary concerns or lack of interest may limit the availability of other language classes at our school.

However, there are many benefits to studying a second language. Students who study a foreign language also tend to score better on standardized tests, according to psychologist Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto.  A study from the University of Chicago showed that learning a foreign language can improve decision-making skills.

Illustration by Christine Watridge

Illustration by Christine Watridge

Researchers from University College London also found that learning other languages positively alters grey matter, the area of the brain which processes information.

In addition, a second language can transform travel experiences or allow for more opportunities abroad. Most importantly, it might broaden someone’s understanding of a new culture and create more widespread acceptance of others.

Amazing what languages can do, right?

Learning a language provides more than the completion of a class. It’s an engaging way to explore other ways of life and discover more about the world we live in.

From preschool to eighth grade I attended Lycée Français de San Francisco (LFSF), a small French school. I was practically fluent in French by the age of six because 80% of my day was taught in French.

In sixth grade, we started learning another language. We had the choice of Spanish, German or Mandarin. In seventh grade, we took up Latin as well.

I never really appreciated how lucky I was to have been given those incredible opportunities until I left the school. When I arrived at Redwood, I was a bit let down to learn that lots of people only take a language to fulfill their 2-year requirement.

At LFSF, I met so many people who I never would have connected with had I not been able to speak French. I have made lifelong friends and been given unique chances to explore the world.

I traveled to Mexico City for an international French school “olympics” in eighth grade and did an exchange trip in the French Alps one winter. During my trip to Mexico, it was incredible to see students from all over the world coming together, getting along and communicating despite coming from completely different cultures.

After spending three months in France, I gained what feels like a second family, and was comfortable in this new place because I didn’t have to worry about learning the language first. These travel experiences have shaped me into who I am and have made me more aware of the incredible world around me.

Languages can connect people across the globe, make you more open-minded or perhaps enrich your travel adventures.

Our school should do more to encourage students to be more accepting and open to other cultures. Leadership’s Kung Food Friday was a great way to celebrate Chinese New Year, and other school-wide activities such as this lunchtime event would be valuable to the student body.

So think hard about the next time you moan and groan about seventh period Spanish. You might find class much more enjoyable and worthwhile if you embrace what you’re learning and appreciate its value.

Seek out an exchange program. Go on a trip somewhere across the globe and explore the world. There are so many amazing opportunities waiting for you. Take them.