As a young girl, I would switch back and forth between my perfect English and my broken Spanish constantly. At the age of ten, I became a full-on interpreter for my entire family, always having the burden of explaining to English speakers what my mom needed or wanted to say. Truthfully, I believe one of the reasons I don’t suffer from social anxiety or the fear of public speaking is my responsibility growing up of having to speak on behalf of my mother. For a long time, I dreaded having to roll my r’s and being looked at funny because of my Spanglish influence. However, as I got older, I saw the importance of being bilingual.
As many bilingual kids will know, your parents view speaking another language as an asset in your career portfolio. They force you to learn the language either to better yourself or to maintain their culture. In my case, it was both. My mother believed that I should speak Spanish mainly because I was Latina. As I mentioned before, I realized how important speaking Spanish was during a trip to Denver where I saw firsthand how difficult it was for Spanish speakers to find others who spoke their language. My mother had gone to the local Trader Joe’s and couldn’t find a single person who spoke Spanish. She came home irritated because the people at the store couldn’t understand or help her. As I began to live on my own during college, I would see the relief on people’s faces when they found I spoke their language. It felt so fulfilling to be able to let them speak comfortably. Thus, I started my journey to not only perfect my Spanish abilities, but to pick up a few other languages in the process.
What languages are you studying?
The first step in my language journey was to work on perfecting my Spanish. For the most part, I had always done well in the written portion of my Spanish courses. Writing has always been my stronger trait, but I have always struggled with pronouncing my r’s in Spanish. The biggest tip I can offer those who struggle with pronunciation is to just go ahead and say it—“it” being whatever phrase you are struggling with. I was always so shy when saying r-sounding words because I knew I would be met with either laughter or misunderstanding. This fear stopped me from being able to practice and perfect my Spanish for the longest time. Don’t let that fear of mispronouncing stop you—go ahead and try. In the event you make a mistake, remember you’re a beginner.
As of now, I am studying Portuguese and Spanish. As a UF student, I am officially a Portuguese minor while I use private tutoring to perfect my Spanish on the side. I took several courses in high school and took the CLEP for Spanish in order to ensure I was on the right track. Additionally, I took French classes, although I have not kept up with the language and only remember how to say “j’ai ne pas un petit ami” which translates to “I don’t have a boyfriend” (you know, the bare necessities). I am also beginning my journey in learning Mandarin, all in an effort to connect to my roots, even though the closest language to my Hong Kongese heritage would be Cantonese. The University of Florida only offers Mandarin since it is the official language of China. In fact, the University of Florida offers classes in a wide range of languages, including: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Spanish and African languages (Akan, Amharic, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba, and Zulu).
How difficult is it to learn a new language?
Each language is difficult, and every student will have different levels of background knowledge. In my case as a Spanish speaker, I have the benefit of being exposed to a Romance language, so Italian, Portuguese and French are relatively easy to learn. Oftentimes, Spanish speakers are told to pick up Portuguese since the languages are 90 percent similar. Personally, I have experience with the Portuguese courses at the University of Florida and would wholeheartedly recommend picking up the introductory course next semester. Professor Andrea Ferreira does an amazing job breaking down the language. More information on the Portuguese Studies major and minor.
Learning anything new is always difficult, yet a study found in Cognition demonstrated that after the age of 10, individuals have a harder time reaching native-level proficiency in a foreign language. Although this finding may be discouraging, it doesn’t take much knowledge of a language to be able to speak to someone. For example, I am a bit nervous about taking on Mandarin, as it is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. However, I felt the same level of nervousness learning Spanish and Portuguese, and although I am not at a proficient level in Portuguese, the thrill of being able to speak and meet new people inspires me to continue my journey.
How can learning a language help my future?
Speaking an additional language is an immense asset to have when applying to jobs. An employer searches for an employee who has a lot to offer their company, and one with the ability to communicate effectively to more people on their behalf is a huge gain. Not only will it permit you to acquire a job, but being able to further your own marketability through communication can lead to promotions or pay raises. In the event you have aspirations of living abroad, you have the benefit of speaking an additional language that can make the transition easier. Speaking a different language expands your potential for growth in any company, but it also expands the number of opportunities available to you. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of speaking another language in your career, Inlingua offers an amazing article focusing on the top reasons for learning a new language.
Ultimately, I chose to learn more languages to reach more people. I’ve always enjoyed learning about people’s experiences and lives. During a trip to Nicaragua, I discovered my passion for listening to others and offering them empathy. As a Spanish speaker, I shared with them what life in the U.S. was like and offered them my own experiences so that they too could learn from them. During that trip alone, I met so many people, and more importantly I connected to them. Through language I was able to express my emotions and care for them. A quote from Nelson Mandela highlights the power of language: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” After discovering this quote, I look forward to broadening my soul to more people and connecting to them on a deeper level.