One of my biggest takeaways wasn’t from a speaker or session, but from an observation of how many attendees spoke English and spoke it well! What can we do in the US to step up our language game? English is prominent, but we are not the only language.
For the team challenge, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with fellow Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts from China, Peru, the Philippines, and Poland with our team fellow from Saudi Arabia. Before leaving for the conference, I researched how to greet people from those countries and downloaded Microsoft Translator on my phone and on my Surface. However, my teammates spoke English along with some speaking several other languages.
Me? I speak English. I can count to 6 in Finnish after playing miniature golf with an exchange student from Finland in high school. I know a few phrases in German, Spanish, and French, but could not hold a conversation in any of those languages.
With today’s technology, many of us have translation apps on our mobile devices, readily available, so have we become complacent about learning another language? Is it necessary? Is there a benefit?
A recent article asked how important it is to learn a foreign language and invited students to comment. There are over 170 comments and, from the ones I’ve scanned so far, all are in support of foreign language classes despite many schools cutting the programs due to funding or a lack of teachers for languages.
As a child, my family moved a number of times. The benefit is that this introduced me to a variety of cultures. I’ve been told I ate a LOT of Assyrian stew in Chicago and fell in love with sopapillas near Four Corners, Colorado. In kindergarten, I learned to count in English and Spanish. When attending college in Chicago, I met people who had never seen anyone of color. This shocked me! Spending most of my life in California has put me in a beautiful melting pot (cue Schoolhouse Rock song here!) It was hard for me to imagine anything else.
Which brings me back to the question, why learn another language? First of all, there are the professional benefits of speaking more than one language. It is a skill sought out by many companies (more than a third based on several online reports) and can mean a larger paycheck. A small study talked about how knowing multiple languages enables you to better focus on mental tasks which definitely helps your employability. Demand for bilingual employees has increased in recent years. One blog talks about multiple benefits of knowing a second language.
Online, you can find many reports about the financial, mental, and creative benefits of speaking more than one language. For me, I believe it gives you a better global view. The more cultures and languages you are exposed to, the better you can understand different perspectives. When I taught 5th grade, I bought a book on the American Revolution while in England and shared it with the class. It was mind-blowing to them that America wasn’t always right. “Wait, England sent soldiers to protect colonists? Well, of course we should have paid!” They learned that it wasn’t about the taxes themselves, but how colonists were charged without a say. To them, it had been a simple, “We’re right, they’re wrong” issue, which changed that day.
In one study published in May 2015, researchers tested children’s ability to communicate effectively by taking other people’s perspectives and found that bilingual children—as well as monolingual children who still had significant exposure to other languages—were better communicators and found it easier to understand other people’s intended meaning.
(While searching for resources to support my theory, I found this article which talks about different perspectives in different languages which leads down another fascinating rabbit hole.)
After attending E2, I feel inspired to try to learn another language. So which one? For me, I have yet to make that decision, but if you are about to start down that path, here are some resources that may help.