A little over one month ago, I started a petition to protect foreign language programs in our schools in light of the Trump administration’s proposed education budget. The voice of a small city girl has now been joined by over 1000 supporters. If you haven’t already, please read, sign, and share the petition, which includes a basic overview of critical points. But why is this cause so important to me? And why should you care too? Here’s some food for thought derived from my personal language learning journey.
The purpose of language is communication.
Language is what makes this otherwise random assortment of black squiggles you’re reading on your screen into coherent thoughts. It is the essential tool by which you interact in higher capacities with the individuals surrounding you. And not just with those who look or think like you.
Language is especially crucial in its facilitation of communication with those who may differ from your own culture. The title of my blog, The Culture Lens, refers to the unique perspectives with which we each see our world. This “lens” is a culmination of all of your experiences and interactions with different cultures, and as such your lens is ideally equipped for diverse modes of interpretation.
Living in a bilingual household means switching between cultures both within and beyond my own home. As a child at the dinner table, I would turn to my right to speak in Mandarin to my mother and turn to my left to speak to my father in English. As I blew my mom a kiss and said zài jiàn before school, I walked into my classroom to greet my teacher with hello.
Maintaining my bilingual fluency for the past 17 years has certainly been an uphill battle, but it is one of the greatest advantages my parents have blessed me with.
Besides Chinese, I am fortunate to have also had opportunities to study Spanish and Latin at separate times during my elementary school years. I was unable to study these languages for extended periods of time due to switching schools, with each school having a unique language program. However, I certainly gained cognitive benefits from the early exposure.
I began studying French in 6th grade and continued to take classes in school until 10th grade, when I ran out of classes at my school. Yes, I learned how to say “croissant” with a proper French accent and ate lots of crepes. I learned about the French language and culture. In doing so, I also gained a new perspective on our own nation’s history through the lens of a European nation.
Most importantly, my school’s French classes sparked an interest in learning about and truly interacting with different cultures. Because I’d fallen so in love with exploring the French language and culture, at the end of 7th grade, I decided to pursue a connection with and explore the estranged Korean part of my Korean/Chinese ethnic identity.
Four years later, my passion for cultural exploration is even more vibrant, and I’m currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea thanks to a U.S. Department of State scholarship (learn more about the scholarship with NSLI-Y 101). The initiative is dedicated to promoting “the necessary linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to promote international dialogue and support American engagement abroad.” (International exchange programs like NSLI-Y are also at risk in the Trump administration’s proposed budget. Please read and sign this petition to help protect these programs as well.)
As a language student and daughter of a former Mandarin teacher, I’ve witnessed firsthand the classroom language learning experience from the perspective of both a teacher and student at all levels from elementary to high school. PSA: It’s not easy on either end of the interactions. Our teachers are often met with little appreciation, and this seems particularly true for foreign language teachers, as foreign language is often disregarded as a core subject, unlike math or science. For a student, it’s no simple task to learn to rewire her brain to comprehend something radically beyond her typical realm.
Despite these obstacles, foreign language programs must remain in our schools.
I said it in the petition, and I’ll say it again here: International education and foreign language programs foster the skills and values essential to cultivating the compassionate global citizens that will comprise our country’s next generation of leaders.
If you speak a language, sign this petition.
That’s right–each and every one of you should sign this petition.
We need citizens who are prepared to embrace the diversity of our world and wield it to build healthier communities and societies, and we need foreign language programs in our schools to foster these global citizens. Eliminating foreign language programs in our schools is a detriment to our future that we can not afford.
Each of my experiences with studying English, Mandarin, French, and Korean has revealed a new facet of this imperfect yet beautiful world we share. Thanks to my language classes, I see our world as a community of incredible diversity, contradiction, and harmony.
But why should my story matter to you? Because I echo the sentiments of so many other students who were inspired by their school’s language classes to seek out what lies beyond their respective isolated communities.
If my story resonates with you, I encourage you to share yours as well. Please tag me in any social media outlet when you share so that I may also be inspired by your personal language learning journey.
Onward to more eye-opening adventures.