Worldly Connections Begin with Communication

Why have Americans opted out of learning a new language or culture? Perhaps the classic American hubris plagued our nation yet again. In today’s world, with the influx of people immigrating into the United States, being bilingual and bicultural is essential when looking for an occupation after college.

Many schools offer language classes to their students; Glenbard West offers French, German, Mandarin and Spanish. While for many students the option to take a language is first offered in high school, many elementary schools are beginning to implement foreign language into their curriculum, such as Churchill Elementary School, which is now offering Spanish, in order to give children a head start.

The Friday, October 9, 2015 edition of the Daily Herald published an article entitled “English, Spanish taught to all.” It featured a fifth grader attending West Chicago Elementary School, Cristian Leon, as he recognizes the benefits of learning another language even at his young age: “The more languages you learn, the more opportunities you get.”

Leon is learning Spanish at such a critical age. Alicia Washburn, German teacher for West, states “The earlier a child learns the better. Brain research shows kindergarten and elementary school is the perfect time.” The brain is still growing at this age and students will be able to pick up the language faster and more effectively.

Ruslan Kostestkyy, a senior at West, speaks both Ukrainian and English. Kostestkyy learned English when he was about five or six and was able to learn the language fairly quickly. He thinks it’s a great idea to teach children another language while they’re still young because “they’re not familiar enough with their initial language to get the two confused.”

Similar to Kostestkyy, Karla Bonic, senior, speaks both Bosnian and English and has been learning Spanish for four years now at West. She believes that students should take advantage of the classes offered here and pursue a language for all four years: “It gives you a view of the world outside of America and you become more culturally aware.”

Karla describes how it may be a struggle learning a language at first, however, with constant repetition and practice it becomes almost effortless.

One must be tenacious when learning a new language and not be discouraged by negative results at first. “It takes your brain a lot of time to remember the grammatical rules,” argues Lisa Alajoki, head of the World Language department and Spanish teacher.

She encourages students to not fear making mistakes: “Most of the time [native speakers] are impressed and happy that you are trying and are quite patient during the communication process.”

Alajoki continues to describe how by being able to communicate with two languages, she has been able to travel abroad and become empathetic with more people from various cultures: “I have met many amazing people -especially my students and colleagues.”

Katie Born would not disagree. Glenbard West 2012 graduate, Katie Born, made the decision last year to spend one semester of her sophomore year in Valencia, Spain. Born, who attends the University of Pittsburgh, lived in an “under-rated city without a lot of tourists” forcing her to “speak Spanish 90 percent of the time” she was there.

While Born desired to study abroad in Valencia in order to fully immerse herself into the culture, she said that despite learning Spanish on her trip with the abroad program, having the “building blocks of grammar and vocabulary that [she] obtained at West” was extremely beneficial to her because she was able to build upon her knowledge of Spanish culture, rather than “play catch-up.”

Born continues on to say “understanding and appreciating cultures that are different from ours builds a more rounded person. This cultivates great character qualities and opens doors to diversifying experiences which are priceless, whether it helps the individual appreciate his or her own life or another’s.”