Becoming Bilingual: The Importance of Learning a Second Language

Aidan Clark '21, Contributing Writer

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Every Westborough Public School student is required to take two years of a foreign language class.  WHS offers Spanish, French, or Mandarin.  A lot of students struggle through these classes, or dismiss them as unnecessary. However, learning another language is one of the best things a person can do to expand their view of the world.

Currently, I am taking Spanish, and have been since seventh grade. I am by no means fluent, but already I’m seeing some of the positive effects that it has. For instance, if an English word has the same root as a Spanish word that I know, I’ll probably be able to at least give an educated guess on what the English word means. However, that really only helps me in English class or on the PSAT. The best part about partially knowing a language is being able to talk to other people in that language– I can speak it with my aunt, who is fluent in Spanish, and I can also understand directions given in Spanish. Recently, I went to Italy, and could understand some of the signs there, as Italian is very similar to Spanish.

Language affects the way we perceive the world. It acts as a “filter” for our thoughts; depending on what concepts a language has words for, speakers have a different understanding of the world around them. For example, cultures whose languages have the same word for the colors blue and green typically are unable to visually distinguish between the two colors. Every language fosters a different perception of the world, and learning another language could allow one to at least see a glimpse of that unique view. Seeing how other cultures perceive concepts surrounding morality or the general human experience allows one to truly understand their fellow human beings.

Everyone experiences the world in a different way, and language is a method that people use to communicate those experiences. People who are or become bilingual have a unique place in the world, as they can take in and understand the experiences of multiple cultures.

The German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Your perspective of the world is limited by the reaches and the ability of one’s language. Knowing more than one language allows people to connect with other people and allow themselves to be informed about their life experiences. Translation does not communicate th

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, German philosopher

ese experiences in full; some ideas just have to be shared in the original tongue.

Shared experiences drive human connection and allows people to expand their worldview. Limited understanding or perception of the world around them creates people who are close-minded and sometimes ignorant. A second language sets people on the path of realizing a different interpretation of their society and other societies.

Another benefit is learning about other cultures. Mixed in with every foreign language class are lessons on certain holidays or practices that exist in countries that speak that language. When I was in eighth grade, I learned about El Día de Los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, in Spanish class. I had never really understood this celebration, and didn’t know about the traditions surrounding it. There are some foods and decorations they use that I had never even heard of! Now, I’m not ignorant; I have knowledge about what those practices mean to Mexican culture, and can inform people about them.

The cultural benefits of another language show that high school students should have to take a foreign language for at least all four years of high school, preferably even sooner. The earlier you start learning a language, the easier it is to acquire and to become fluent in it. As a byproduct of learning about other cultures and expanding one’s worldview, students who study a foreign language typically develop a more positive attitude towards the groups of people they study. This increase in acceptance of others, an essential quality in all communities of people, proves that students spending more years studying a foreign language is worth it.

A foreign language is not something that you should learn for a few years, and then forget as soon as possible. If the human race is going to come together as one, we need to start sharing and appreciating each others experiences, cultures, and perceptions of the world. Learning another language lets people at least start to achieve this goal. Even with all the work and practice that this takes, the world will end up with many more well rounded global citizens.