Although I was born in Singapore, Korean was the first language I learned. Then, followed English, Mandarin, and lastly Spanish. I started studying Mandarin in 1st grade at SAS. All gathered on the patterned, thick carpet in the Chinese classroom, my classmates and I encountered an intimate experience with a country 3,835 kilometers away. During Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Lantern Festival, we discovered and gained a deeper understanding of foreign traditions that vastly contrasted from our own. Learning a variety of languages enabled me to see and recognize differences in style, grammar, and most importantly culture.
Multilingualism: The use of two or more languages, either actively (speaking, writing, or signing) or passively (listening, reading, or perceiving).
Unlocking cultural diversity and openness, multilingualism is a vital component to individuals. Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, in the 20th century had said, “If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.” And today, 100 years later, around 3.5 billion people communicate in more than one language daily, meaning that more than half of the world’s population is bilingual.
In SAS, we have the opportunity choose from three world languages: Mandarin, Spanish, or French.
“I think the language curriculum is strong in SAS because there are classes for the current main languages in the world,” says Zi Tong Lim, a sophomore at SAS taking AP NN Chinese. “Language learning is beneficial for me because it enables me to think differently. It isn’t just about learning how to say objects in a different way or memorizing the strokes of a character. It’s more about being able to shift your mindset to accept the various perspectives and cultures surrounding a single topic.”
Multilingualism promotes understanding between different cultures and backgrounds, thus developing a sense of cultural pluralism: Openness and appreciation to other cultures. Racism, xenophobia, and intolerance are lessened as language learning brings out the slow revelation of a new culture. With different tongues, you can savor and taste the world even more. Vivir Mi Vida by Marc Anthony being my favorite song, I especially enjoyed learning Spanish through Spanish music. I understood more than just the lyrics of the song. The unique styles, tempos, and instruments of the music totally contrasted from the music I’ve heard before. It was like trying a new food, at first tasting a bit strange and unusual. Multilingualism allows one to broaden horizons to see and understand diversity in culture. This, then, builds deeper relationships and makes engagement and interaction much easier.
“A lot of the southern population [of the United States] is hispanic, and because I plan on living in California, I am currently learning Spanish,” says Sophia Datta, a sophomore at SAS. “Better communication with the local population would lead to better job prospects in the future.”
Multilingualism breaks communication barriers and helps bridge cultural gaps between two individuals or even two countries. Today in the 21st century, workplaces in the world are constantly interconnecting between various countries and cultures. As a result, companies around the world seek employees who can communicate and address customers in a language they perceive best. Being multilingual would provide more wide-ranging opportunities. Professor Alison Lewis from the School of Language and Linguistics says, “Knowledge of a second, third, or fourth language opens doors and adds an extra dimension to someone’s skills set, which can make all the difference with being successful in a competitive jobs market.”
As international students taking language courses, we are often too busy immersing ourselves in homework or oral tests to truly realize the impact we are receiving. We are developing a vital component for success. We are learning to accept foreign customs and values. We are traveling between cultures. We are tasting the world.