Language: Use it or lose it?

A personal story from one of our members.

Having been born in the USA, English has always been my primary language. The sheer number of words in the language itself is unfathomable. I find myself learning new words every day and reveling in their meanings.

When I started high school, I was told that I would need to take a foreign language. I had to choose between either French or Spanish. I decided to go with Spanish as this was a very prominent language in my home state of California. I will admit, I was displeased with the idea because why did I need to know another language?

I struggled at first because the dialect itself is complicated with pronunciations of specific letters, such as rolling the “R” in words as well as writing the Spanish language. I dedicated myself to learning the language and passed all four years of Spanish in high school. I was fluent enough, and my teacher rewarded my class and myself with a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was a blessing, even more so because we were going for two whole weeks!

Upon arriving in Mexico, it was apparent that no English was spoken and our teacher would not allow it. If we wanted to know a specific word, we had to ask “Como se dice” instead of “How do you say”. Some of my classmates grumbled about it, but I was excited because I could communicate with these amazing people and learn all about their culture.

I conversed with as many people as I could, learning about their lives and the overall culture. I learned about families, their history, and heritage. In return, they asked about mine. In addition to speaking Spanish with the natives, I also learned new foods, clothing styles and joined the families I had befriended in their activities and meals.

Two weeks went by fast, and I was sad to leave. I had become terrific friends with a girl named Maria, and we promised to become pen pals. We would write each other twice a month, and we each made a requirement of each other. I would write my letters in Spanish, and she would write hers in English. We would then make copies and send the corrections back to each other.

Now having learned Spanish, I was able to help someone learn English! What an exciting new venture this was. We wrote long letters to each other, each sending papers riddled with red marks back and forth to each other. Soon the red markings became non-existent and both of our second languages had flourished.

Maria began to teach her family English, and at times letters from them would be included with hers in my mailbox. The letters would range from hysterical to sometimes emotional, but nonetheless, I helped her family learn English and my Spanish proficiency was past expert level.

I was reluctant to learn a second language but once I did, I saw how it not only benefitted my life but also enabled me to help others. It was life-changing, and I am incredibly grateful.