Staff Opinion: Learn another language

Sports reporter Ana Clyde writes about her experiences being bilingual

By Ana Clyde | November 28, 2017 9:18pm

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Ana Clyde is a sports reporter for The Beacon. 

by Brennan Robinson / The Beacon

I was in seventh grade sitting in science class when I got called to the principal’s office.

But I was not in trouble. When I got to the office there was a woman in the room that I didn’t recognize. The principal explained that she was visiting my small parochial Catholic school to see if she wanted to send her son there. There was just one problem. The principal could not sell the school to someone who couldn't understand her.

So, 12-year-old me stood between two grown women, translating the mother’s Spanish questions and the principal’s English answers. And I did it with ease. The only part I struggled with was the financial part, seeing as I was still only a seventh grader. But with the school being as small as it was, the principal knew me and my family, which meant she knew that we spoke Spanish at home.

My mom was born and raised in Maracaibo, Venezuela. She did not learn to speak English until she moved to the United States after marrying my dad, who was born and raised in Myrtle Creek, Oregon. After meeting and getting married in Puerto Rico, the two moved to Portsmouth, Virginia.

Virginia was where my mom first started to take English classes, and where I was born. My dad was at work most of the time, so when my mom was home with me, all I ever heard was Spanish. Naturally, then, Spanish was my first language.

Other than my first year of preschool when I couldn't understand the kids speaking English, I have never not known the advantages of being bilingual. Helping my principal and the mother at my school was only one instance. Even today, and even with my mom’s fluent English, I still help out in her transactions with other people from time to time. 

My younger siblings also speak Spanish because my mom insisted to my dad that her children would be fluent. So, my dad learned Spanish. And now if we hear it spoken around us, we can easily—sometimes without noticing—shift from English thoughts to Spanish ones. We read, write, dream, and pray in both languages.

When I was very young I never thought of this as abnormal. In fact, it isn’t. At least, not in a lot of other countries. In many Latin American and European countries, students are being taught multiple languages to the level at which they can speak them fluently by high school age. My cousins all learned English at their school in Venezuela, while my friend from Mexico learned both English and French at her school. Being bilingual or trilingual in countries outside of the U.S. is not considered abnormal. In fact, speaking only one language is practically unheard of.

American students are not taught other languages in the same rigorous manner. Since English is taught in so many other places of the world, and is considered the official language of international business, I think a lot of Americans do not feel the pressure or need to learn another language. Meanwhile, students from other countries are opening their opportunities outside of their own language barrier, learning English and maybe Italian or other Romance languages, depending on where they are. Americans sit comfortably in their English bubble without a care.

But Americans shouldn’t be comfortable with that. Americans should want to learn other languages to build bridges with international communities. The U.S. is constantly becoming more and more diverse, with people coming in from all over the world, bringing in their religions, cultures, and yes, languages. In the U.S., there are too many Americans that have this unfair assumption that those visiting or immigrating here should be able to speak English. Some will even yell at those speaking in another language and remind them that ‘we’re in the United States, and here we speak English!’

And yet, when Americans go visit abroad, some still carry that same obnoxious expectation that others should be speaking in English to them. 

But hold on. Shouldn't the Americans be speaking the language of the country they're visiting? Excuse me but, you’re in France, and there they speak French.

It’s time Americans pop the language bubble. There are plenty of other beautiful languages that are not only nice to listen to and fun to speak, but also very useful to know. Mandarin is ever-so-quickly becoming a global language, as well as French, Arabic and of course, Spanish. Learning these can help bolster your resume and open up job opportunities, while also giving you the ability to interact with new people. 

So, instead of just wishing you could speak Portuguese or Russian, learn how to! Buy a book, watch YouTube videos, take a class. Not only will you be expanding your own horizons, but you will also chip away at the ugly image of the intolerant American who demands to only hear English everywhere. You will be tearing down strong cultural barriers that only language can break. 

Through language, we can connect with people from different areas of the world, while also showing that we want to reach out to them. There is a look that comes across someone’s face when you speak to them in their native tongue that is incomparable; a look of happiness and relief, that says ‘you understand me.’ It’s the same look the mother from my school had when I first turned to speak to her in Spanish. Trust me, you want to witness that look.

¡Así que ponte pilas y empieza a estudiar! Hay mucho que aprender.

Ana Clyde is a sports reporter for The Beacon. 

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