Why learn a foreign language?

By May Lundy

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

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"Hello, hello, hello, how are you?” are words to the first song I learned in English. The teacher sang along while we covered our hands in glue from pasting paper drawings on our workbooks. I was 3 years old and attending a bilingual kindergarten in Veracruz, Mexico.

I was blessed to have parents who were quite involved in my education, especially in learning a second language at a very young age. They always looked for schools that not only had an hour of English immersion, but the entire day if possible. As I enrolled in elementary school, it took some experimenting to find the right institution. At first I attended schools that only imparted two hours of English. I remember how much I liked to learn new vocabulary and read from colorful storybooks. I always took my new discoveries very seriously, so much that I began teaching my grandmother English lessons out of my first-grade books.

By the time I was in third grade, we were living in Puebla, Mexico, and I was enrolled in a school where we were taught entirely in English the first or second half of the day. Social studies, health, English grammar and spelling were some of the subjects. I loved the smell of new books and I was thrilled at the thought of mastering the spelling of a new word.

I also remember student competitions where we had to memorize verbs in present, past and past participle. Much of my recollection of verb tenses comes from those days. I still recall learning about joints and muscles and their functions. What I learned in those first formative years laid a strong foundation and a love for learning. I am grateful for my parents’ sacrifice, since attending private bilingual schools is pretty expensive in Mexico. Because of their efforts, I am able to write this article today.

Years later, I came to the United States for a small period of time. It was then that I took a deep dive into the language. Idioms such as “foot in mouth,” “raining cats and dogs” and “pulling a leg” joined my list of discoveries. My father always used to tell me that one day I would see the fruits of the sacrifices made to learn a second language. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was about to discover an entire world of opportunities.

Learning English as a second language helped my ability to grasp new concepts and retain information at a faster rate. After returning to Mexico, I decided to take French in high school. Having learned English made it easier for me to learn a third language. Many words and sentence structures were similar to Spanish or English.

I continued on to college where I was blessed to receive a scholarship to do an internship in France. The full-immersion experience began for the second time. The fear of not speaking the language did not apply to me. “If I can’t say something in French, I’ll try English or Spanish,” I thought. But the environment forced me to use my French, and although it was challenging at first, my French fluency increased by 50 percent by the end of my five-month stay.

After coming back from France and finishing my college degree, my view of the world changed. I felt like I could conquer anything. I began teaching English as a second language to other college students and business professionals. I enjoyed sharing and learning along with the students. They asked questions that challenged my knowledge, and I liked that.

Teaching English helped me prepare for the TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language) required to apply for American universities. After a couple of practice tests, I was able to get a good score. When I came back to the United States to obtain another college degree, I was able to polish my English skills, and I took some more advanced French classes. It was a whole new experience to attend a French class and observe how American students approached the language.

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