OPINION: Language: More than a Gen-ED

By Susan Katherine Corkran, Columnist

Here’s an experiment: Walk from one end of Mason’s campus to the other and count how many languages you hear your fellow Patriots speaking.

The long hours of pouring over vocabulary flashcards, translating simple texts word by word and struggling to hold a new system of grammar in your mind as you stumble through an awkward speaking prompt may seem grueling to a student without much interest in learning a foreign language. It becomes necessary work that must be done in order to graduate, and so the chosen language represents nothing more than an item on a to-do list waiting to be checked off.

That is the last way we should view the gift of learning a new language.

Words have power. We learn that in our infancy as we speak our very first words to our parents’ delight. Words are the way through which we connect to the world around us, to say nothing of connecting to all of the many people in that world. Each unique person who crosses our path has something to teach us, and if we are willing to learn, then our lives are changed.

When you expand your knowledge of words beyond the limits of one language, you broaden the horizons of your world to include more people, more viewpoints and ultimately more lessons that can help you along whatever path you wish to chose to follow in life. The ability to connect to new cultures and customs is a beautiful experience worth every minute of the dedication, discipline, and hard work it takes to gain mastery of a new way of speaking. We are expected to show a certain level of proficiency in another language for a reason.  

One of the most beautiful things about this school is its students and the diversity that each of us brings to this place. Everyone brings something special to the school, especially their culture and experiences. We have the chance to widen one another’s worldviews and learn things about other cultures and backgrounds that we never knew before. Beginning to learn another person’s language is a deeply personal way to initiate this sharing of information, and while it is exceedingly useful to have English in common with one another, there is no reason to limit ourselves to only one set of words. Broadening your speaking –(and, more importantly, your listening– abilities is the first step you take to connecting with other people and forging life-changing relationships.

So, as tedious as it may seem at times to sit down with a handful of flashcards or an early reader’s grammar book, think about all of the many doors you can open for yourself by putting in this work. It is so much more than simply fulfilling a graduation requirement. This is a requirement for a deeper, more meaningful life.

Now go learn!

Photo by Grant Smith