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10 Things I learned about life by taking a foreign language

The majority of students will, at some point, take a foreign language class at the high school. Most however, will not take up to the College in the Schools (CIS) level. I am currently taking CIS Spanish 4, and after the equivalent of almost 4 years of a language, I have learned more than I ever expected. A lot of what I learned though, was not necessarily words or phrases in the language, it was much bigger.

1. America Isn’t The Only Country In The World

Of course I knew this already, but it’s hard to really grasp how much of the world there is until you start focusing on a different part of it. I’m not talking about world studies where you study demographic information either, I’m talking about speaking their language and learning about their culture. After taking enough Spanish to learn more about the Spanish speaking countries, I realized how much I didn’t know about the world, despite taking so many history classes. Without a foreign language I would have had no idea about the problems facing Spanish speaking countries.

2. Everything Is Funnier In a Foreign Language

While foreign languages are hard, once you reach a certain point and can understand an entire 80 minutes of a teacher speaking in Spanish, things get so much more interesting. At the beginning of the semester I would have never said I would be able to hold a decent conversation with another student in Spanish. Now that I can do that, I can listen to stories told in Spanish by other students or Sr. Boeckers. What makes this great is that I laugh the most in Spanish than any other class I have. I’m not sure if the stories or jokes are necessarily more funny, but something about understanding a joke in a foreign language just makes it that much funnier.

3. It’s Okay to Fail

Everyone fails in life sometimes, it’s not always a big failure, but everyone does it. What I’ve realized though through taking a foreign language is that sometimes it’s ok to fail. What I mean is that sometimes you can work your hardest on something and not get a good grade, but you should still be proud that you tried. While I usually earn good grades in Spanish, there have definitely been tests that I would have liked to do better on. What I realize now though is that I will learn that material eventually, I just wasn’t ready for it yet. Which leads me to number 4.

4. It’s Ok Not To Understand Everything

I would be lying if I said that I understood every single word my Spanish teacher says. I would also be lying if I said I was perfect at grammar, spelling, accents, or speaking. I still have a long way to go with Spanish, but what I learned from experience taking language here at BHS is that it is completely ok not to understand everything. In a lot of our classes if we don’t understand all of something it means we understand none of it. I learned something much different in Spanish. Everyone goes at their own pace, and there is no way to force someone to get better at another language. You first have to accept your pace and then do your best to keep it going, even if that means not knowing every single vocab word.

5. You Don’t Have To Know Every Word

While in Spanish 1 through 3 we had vocab tests, what I’ve now realized is that it’s not important to know every single one of those words. Yes, you do need to know a lot of them, but what’s more important is to be able to use those words. They do you no good if you can only translate them to their English meaning.

6. Translating isn’t always the best way

In the first few Spanish classes everything you do is translated, if not on paper, in your brain. You think about the sentences, words, and books in English, then translate your answer into Spanish. What I’ve learned now that I’m doing bigger projects is that I learn more not doing that. At first you have to, there’s no way around it, but the less you do it, the easier it is, because you are now not just a human translator, but you’re thinking in that language.

7. The more you take of a language the easier it gets

This may sound strange, you would think that the more classes you would take in a subject the harder it would get, which is true. The work itself gets harder, but the learning becomes easier. Now that I understand the most important basic things about the language, I’m free to work on my other skills. This makes speaking, writing, and reading so much easier. A few years ago I would have had to write out a sentence to see if it was right, but now that I understand the structures, I can just say it.

8.Sometimes just saying it is the best way to learn

What I mean here is that sometimes you just have to go out of your comfort zone. No one likes presenting in front of class, but the more we do it the easier it gets. This is what it’s like with speaking a foreign language. I’m not saying that I’m fluent, or even good at speaking in Spanish, but once I got over the initial fear of speaking Spanish out loud, I got infinitely better. Going into Spanish 4 I thought I would be the quietest kid in the room, but we all learned together.

9. You’re not the only one

I was scared of starting a college level foreign language class. I had made up in my mind that it would be ten times harder than a high school class. When I talked to other people, they said the same thing and had the same worries. I started to realize that not just in Spanish, but in other classes, if you’re afraid of something new in a class, or even in life, most likely everyone around you is too.

10.Your teachers know you’re scared too

No one walks into a language class and says to themselves “Yep, this will be a refresher course, I know all this stuff.” Your fears of oral exams, tests, vocab, and grammar are shared. While you may know this, it’s also important to know that your teachers do too. They don’t design their class to fail you, they design it to teach you, and they’re completely aware of how nervous you are to not understand. I realized this when in Spanish 4 Sr. Boeckers really prepared us for everything we did, he understood our anxiety. He got it. I’m sure if you ask your teachers, they will get it too.

Images by Michael Raitor

Rachel Ulfers

Rachel is currently a PSEO student at NHCC during her senior year. She is in DECA, Hoofprint,and enjoys photography and playing with her overbearing yellow lab.

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