Growing Your World

By Adela Penagos, PhD

I conduct the Spanish classes I teach exclusively in the target language, and my students do not always appreciate it. These courses are well beyond the language requirement and the students indicate they want to gain near-native fluency.  Therefore, I often wonder, why do students of a romance language want it to be similar to English (a Germanic one)? And why don’t they understand that the benefits of speaking another language go well beyond fluency?

1. Learning Another Language Helps You Gain Perspective.

When you put in the work need to learn another language –similar to the consistency entailed to get in shape by working out—your world expands, and suddenly you are able to view such world through someone else’s point of view. As a native Spanish speaker, I recall my frustration in learning the English alphabet and coming to the realization that the sounds of the alphabet had nothing to do with how I was expected to pronounce most words. I had to take a leap of faith into the fact that tough and dough were pronounced completely different, although only one letter sets the words apart. When I came to terms that expressions in English were not going to be the same way as in Spanish, I began to enjoy learning the language and embrace the culture. I went from not being able to stomach a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to embracing it as one of my favorite snacks.

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2. Learning Another Language Puts You on a Path for Success.

Knowing another language makes one more marketable not only because of the ability to communicate with a different population in their native language, but because you are able to adapt quickly to unexpected situations. I still remember when I was stuck in France during a trip to Ireland to watch the Notre Dame home opener. Being able to communicate in French enabled me to clear customs much quickly and make my connecting flight to arrive on time to enjoy all the festivities.    

3. Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone Transforms You.

Without a doubt my most transformative experience took place when I spent my sophomore year of high school at a boarding school in Michigan. The first day of classes, I could not even comprehend my homeroom teacher saying my last name; however, by the end of the year, I did not want to go back to Mexico. That experience taught me that I wanted to pursue my BA in the United States because I greatly embraced the Harkness method; was thrilled with the possibility of picking courses on my class schedule; and wanted to earn an education that would enable me to think critically and analytically.

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Learning English has opened more doors for me than I ever imagined possible. I have been able to work at some of the most highly selective universities, such as Harvard, Notre Dame, MIT, and Boston College; it has allowed me to meet some of the most interesting people including Tommy Hilfiger, Saint Pope John Paul II, and the late Rev. Ted Hesburgh, CSC. More importantly, it has helped me become the person I am today. Embracing your language learning can take you through unexpected paths. Be open and let it happen.