Growing up my childhood was blessed with first editions of National Geographic from its early years. Hardcover treasures filled with lengthy articles and black and white images from around the globe. I was always curious about the people in the photos and those lucky enough to have traveled to those exotic locations, writing and photographing their experiences. I wanted to fill my senses with those scenes, taste the food I was reading about, hearing the conversation and joining in.
Then I got older, and my interest in learning a foreign language didn’t seem necessary, at least not until I got to high school and began to consider going to college afterward. For that, I would need two years of a foreign language.
Two whole years! At the time it seems a near-impossible fete. And initially, I signed up for German. Everyone else was taking Spanish, what did I need Spanish for?
My hopes to learn German were dashed with the school revealed that I was the only student who had signed up for the class. I had to pick from the three other options: Spanish, Russian, and French. French had the least number of students, and so that’s the one I chose.
I’d like to say that I remember everything, but what I remember most is, “ouvre vos livres,” or “open your books.” My depth of learning the lengua franca did not go far. Outside of reading warnings on boxes of tampons with the pronunciation of a self-assumed semi-pro, I was determined to stick with it long enough to pass and have it down on my transcripts.
Enter adulthood and my realization that the USA’s education system was way behind the ball. First, I should have been learning another language in grade school. Second, the counselor probably should have made it clearer that Spanish was going to be more useful as I reached adulthood.
And so, I decided that since Mr. Muse and I were traveling to Spanish-speaking countries far more often, that we’d be wise to get a handle on the language. We’re now entering our fourth year of learning Spanish via the Duolingo app in addition to Instant Immersion software. I’ve also gone through three levels of Spanish at UW Madison in the Continuing Education courses.
Some days, I feel incredibly confident in my abilities as things just seem to click, and other days, I hear non-native speakers rattle off speeches, and I’m standing there like a slack-jawed yokel in amazement. So, I keep working at it, refining and digging into the linguistics. I know it’d be better if I were actually immersed in a situation of using the language all-day-every-day, but for now, I stick with daily practice.
And then our friends had a baby… and baby will be raised bilingual. In Swedish.
One of our dear friends, the first native Swede I met, has been speaking Swedish around me for over 20 years. I know a few words: tack, ost, and glass (which would be “thank you,” “cheese,” and “ice cream”), but not nearly enough to carry on a simple conversation. We’ve many friends and acquaintances who are native Swedes, or immigrants to Sweden, and we’ve been teased about when we’re going to learn the language. Mr. Muse started to learn Swedish last year via Duolingo.
Since we’ll be around baby a fair amount, I decided that it was time to add learning Swedish into my personal education mission lest baby say something to me in Swedish and I can’t answer, let alone understand.
So, every day, I speak and write English, most days I speak and write some Spanish along with daily practice, and for the last few weeks, I’ve practiced Swedish, too.
Some days I also feel like my brains are scrambled eggs, but I continue on. Why? Because education is important. Because people for whom English is a second language work hard at learning it and the least I can do is try to learn languages for places I frequent or people I know. I wish I had possessed this much gumption in my youth, but sometimes it takes years of experience to get wise about a topic.
The top four languages spoken in the United States are English, Spanish, Chinese (Cantonese), and French. Learning another language has so many benefits, that I can’t even begin to list them, but if there were one that stands out to me, it would be that a second language opens your mind to cultural differences.
If you’ve got children, I hope you can make them understand the importance of learning a second language. If you’re an adult and only know one language, take up another – even if its casual practice on Duolingo. Why? Because it’s never too late to expand your mind.
Do you know a second language? What is it?
If you don’t speak a second language, what is one that you’ve always thought you might like to learn?