Two is better than one: Early language study opens whole new worlds

By: Tana Gam-Ad

Due to the fact that I move constantly from place to place, I immerse myself into many different cultures. I adapt to where I end up next and enjoy the different perspectives of so many countries. So far, I have lived in five different countries, visited over a dozen and switched schools at least six times in my 15 years. Everywhere I go, I open myself up to new possibilities and new cultures. The three most important things I have noticed each time I move are the following: food (my favorite), tradition and language.

Language is a big part of any culture, and to adapt I have learned at least the basics of around six languages aside from English, two of which I speak fluently. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The words we know affect what we see in the world. The more words we know, the more we see, and when we learn different languages we see not only more things, but we see them in many different ways, giving us a better perception of the world around us.

There are so many people around the world who speak two languages easily, as if it is completely natural, because it is. Millions around the globe learn a language other than their own starting at a very young age. In most schools, children are taught an additional language starting in elementary school; however, this is not as common in the United States. In the States, we start to learn other languages in high school.

Being bilingual comes with its ups and downs, like mixing up your words when talking in one language or another, which makes for a “did I just say that?” moment and a healthy dose of teeny, tiny embarrassment.

Ignoring the word jumbles, there are various advantages to being bilingual, from being able read that menu in Spanish to having a well-rounded résumé in the near future. Bilingualism (or multilingualism) has been scientifically proven to help with perception and memory. Knowing two or more languages changes the way your brain works, for the better. Connections made in the brain affect how we see and do things in life, so switching languages makes it easier to switch tasks, and we can observe more details than usual.

If bilingualism comes with all these advantages, why doesn’t the American school system follow the lead of those around the globe and start teaching world languages earlier? In reality, some schools are. They start teaching introductory language lessons starting in junior high and continue through high school using the normal process. Like French teacher Brittan Engels suggests, the best way to do this should be to “ease into it.” As part of the world languages committee here in Cedar Falls, Engels shares that there may be a chance that the same process will be used here in Cedar Falls.

I see the world differently. I see it through different cultures and traditions because that’s what language comes with. Besides everything else, the world can be pretty awesome, and with what I know, I think the world I see is so much more. It’s something I would like everyone to explore at least once in their lives because the world to them right now is like looking at a small part, but when you take a step back you get to see the whole picture. And trust me, it’s pretty amazing.

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