The Importance of Learning Languages

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Francesca Di Domenico, Contributing Writer

Señora Alajoki, a Spanish teacher and the World Language Department Chair, has been teaching at Glenbard West for 28 years. She has often asked her students why they chose to learn a language; their responses have evolved over the years. In her early years of teaching, most students said they took two years of a language for college. Most recently, Sra. Alajoki’s students have expressed their “passion” beyond the words of the language itself and for “[learning] about a different culture.”

Sra. Alajoki became interested in languages at a young age when she saw the news in Spanish. The unfamiliar phrases filled her with curiosity. French teacher, Mrs. Callicoat, known as Madame C to her students, was also introduced to languages at a young age. Her mother is a medieval historian and speaks multiple languages. Mme C’s mother taught her French, and she was speaking French by age six.

With the use of technology increasing around the world, learning languages is becoming increasingly important. Mme C emphasized that technology has made it easier to “reach different areas of the world.” Sra. Alajoki agreed, saying that “the world is so much smaller now with technology,” and that “people are very gracious when you try to communicate in [their first language].” Her students built on this, pointing out that “[they] shouldn’t expect everyone to speak English.”

Learning a language comes with other benefits as well. Mme C noted that learning a language is a great way to keep your brain working because “you’re bringing new information into your brain all the time.” In addition, she has noticed that people who speak multiple languages have “a greater level of richness” to their vocabulary. You can learn more about the advantages of learning languages here.

Mme C and Sra. Alajoki encourage students to continue taking language classes in college. There are also plenty of online resources that students can use, like Duolingo. But more importantly, if possible, Sra. Alajoki encourages students to “get [themselves] immersed in a culture” by traveling, or as Mme C puts it “actually live the language.” Be sure to practice in your everyday lives as well. During high school and college, Sra. Alajoki worked in restaurants and spoke Spanish with the customers. Mme C recommends watching your favorite Disney movies in the language you want to learn and also listening to music written in that language. She thinks that “one of the best ways to connect with a language is through music.” While listening to music, you are “learning without knowing you’re learning,” because you are listening to “grammatically correct” phrases. 

Wearing masks due to COVID-19 has posed certain challenges for language teachers and students. Mme C says that because masks muffle words, “pronunciation has been a bit of an issue.” In order to work around this problem, she is utilizing the old-school “repeat after me” method. Additionally, the lack of facial expression while wearing masks makes it more difficult to communicate. However, Sra. Alajoki is looking on the bright side and thinks that, “students’ listening skills have had to improve” because they have to listen diligently to understand.

Despite the recent challenges, the teachers remain optimistic. Mme C encourages students to continue their studies because “[they’re] young enough to actually make great strides in a language and to really master it.” Finally, Sra. Alajoki urges students to not be afraid to make mistakes while writing and speaking. As she puts it, “we make mistakes in our native language all the time.”