In the spring of 2020, when we were all locked down due to the pandemic and feeling cooped up and anxious, I got an email that lifted my spirits. It was from a former student who wrote to thank me for writing him a letter of recommendation for an internship with his local congresswoman that led to a job after graduation. He revealed something that was ever so exciting:
“I had the honor to accompany former President of Chile and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to a meeting with my boss and we spoke about the movie No with Gael Garcia Bernal, which we watched in your class! She was impressed with not only my ability to speak Spanish, but my knowledge of some of the wider cultural and political trends in Chile - which I credit to you! So I thought I would share that to let you know that for me, the lessons you taught were not only instructional, but had real world impacts.”
I love teaching students a second language because it opens up their world in ways that they might never imagine. Many students take Spanish because it is an academic requirement, and not all of them are excited to do so. I get that. While I pride myself on making the requirement fun and on helping students see the broader application of what they are studying, it is truly moments like these that make my job so worthwhile.
Studies show that bilingualism has all sorts of advantages, including a stronger working memory, increased attention span, and superior creativity and empathy. When you learn a language, you also learn its culture and customs, and your world perspective is greatly expanded.
As a teacher, I love it when my students report back that they were able to speak to someone new in their second language. Over the years, students have told me that Spanish helped them talk to a cute girl at a party or bond with a stranger that needed linguistic help. Those "aha" moments occur in all disciplines, but there is something special about language learning because it allows you to do something that was previously impossible. I’m not just a teacher, but I am also a language learner, and some of my favorite memories are using my fledgling German to make a dinner reservation and call a taxi on the phone (and it arrived in the right spot!). I feel so fortunate to be able to share my passion for language learning with others and see it bloom in them as well.
You may be studying a foreign language because your school made you do it, but it may just end up being the most useful course that you ever take. There will inevitably be a time where that language will open doors for you. It might be a job. Or maybe it’s a way to make a new friend. Once you learn a second language, your world becomes exponentially larger. You literally have millions more people to talk to, and many more countries to visit. Remember that language is simply a tool to connect with others.