Like many students at John Carroll (and in just about every university nationwide), I love learning foreign languages.
I mean I love it fiercely. I can’t get enough. I have minors in Spanish and French, and this year, I started taking classes in Arabic. If I could, I would study every language that the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Cultures offers.
My attraction to them is twofold; the practical application of having learned another language is fairly self-evident—all employers love a job candidate that can represent their interests and extend their presence into diverse markets. More languages means a wider consumer spectrum, and a wider consumer spectrum means a larger profit—this is not a foreign concept to anybody, and it is the driving force behind most students’ efforts to learn new dialects.
But the second value of learning another language is more in the interest of an individual’s ability to get the most out of their “human experience,” for lack of a better term.. Speaking the tongue of another culture allows you to immerse yourself in other societies in such a way that is otherwise unattainable, allows you to examine the world around you in a variety of different lenses.
For instance, learning the complicated series of German adjectives and emotions that simply don’t have exact counterparts in English may help you get a refined sense of self, being able to speak Italian proficiently may make your semester abroad all the more educational (as you could literally “do as the Romans do”) and conversely, for non-English speakers, becoming an Anglophone will surely allow you to truly grasp the frustratingly-untranslatable beauty of a Shakespearian play, etc.
Right– now all of the positives of language learning established. But what about actually being able to speak them?
Mastering a language is difficult, especially for Americans. I am forever envious of Europeans and their continent that squeezes dozens of foreign languages and nationalities into a relatively small geographic space. One can drive from Paris to Bratislava, traversing four countries and four linguistic populations in relatively the same amount of time as driving from Cleveland to Lincoln, Nebraska (a monotonously monolingual journey).
Thanks to their proximity to diverse cultures, The Guardian reports that over half of all Europeans are conversational in at least two languages.
Language lovers in the American Midwest have no such luxury, though. Our exposure to other languages (and the immediate necessity to speak them) is miniscule—we have Quebec way up in the Northeast and Mexico far to the Southwest. Each lie hundreds of miles away and are not easily accessible. We are in somewhat of a language landlock, and Americans generally don’t take their study of second languages too seriously– only one percent of Americans are proficient in a foreign language that they learned in a classroom, according to the Atlantic.
But luckily for Midwestern languaphiles, there is an easy way to attain that level of fluency that is often thought impossible without an extended stay abroad—it works for me, and I think it would behoove any other dedicated language learner to at least give it a go.
I try to get my daily news delivered to me in my target languages—both in print and via podcast. To keep up on my French, I try to read an article per day from Le Monde online and I listen to RFI’s “Journal en Français Facile,” a daily podcast that is intended for an audience that speaks French as a second language. For each broadcast of “Journal en Français Facile,” there is an accompanying transcript that is available free of charge on their website, which helps you better understand a segment that was hard to catch at first. For Spanish, I have the same routine, but with El País and the RFI Spanish podcast.
For me, this strategy offers multifarious benefits—I get to read and listen to the foreign languages I study and I stay up to date on world news. They have helped me sharpen my skills in Spanish and French, and I think that they (especially the podcasts) are a bit underrated. Language learners in this region of the world have a lot of resources available to them that can help them reach fluency—they just have to seek them out.