What language do you wish you could speak?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

I spent the summer before my seventh grade year living with my grandparents on their dairy farm, which is the reason I wasn’t around when the time came for me to be enrolled in in my new junior high school. My dad, who was in the process of moving our family from New Jersey to Kansas, went to the school and signed me up for classes, and when my parents finally returned to take me and my younger brother and sister back to our new home in Lawrence, I was very eager to know what classes I would be taking when school started a few days later. To my surprise (and delight), he had enrolled me in German 1. I couldn’t wait to learn how to speak in another language, and while it proved to be a bit less fun than I imagined, I’m very glad I had that experience. I never traveled to Germany, and I have forgotten most of what I learned, the next time I had the need to study another language, it wasn’t a daunting prospect at all.

From 2012 through 2019, I participated in short term mission trips, first to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti, without knowing more than a few words in Spanish and knowing no Haitian Creole at all. After a couple of trips to Haiti, I had the opportunity to learn a little bit of the language–“survival Creole,” they called it. I was amazed at how much of a difference it made to know even a few phrases in the mother tongue of the Haitians I was with, and they seemed to genuinely appreciate that I had made the effort to learn something of their language, even though my vocabulary and pronunciation left a lot to be desired.

Though many public schools in the U.S. do offer foreign language courses, being bilingual is definitely not as big a deal here in the States as it is virtually anywhere else in the world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 20 percent of Americans are bilingual, while it is estimated that about half of the people on the planet speak at least one language in addition to their mother tongue.

There are many benefits associated with learning additional languages, but one reason in particular motivated me to begin learning Spanish [checks DuoLingo app] 653 days ago–there is research that indicates a correlation between learning additional languages and putting off the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. I picked Spanish because I have some Spanish-speaking friends and acquaintances, and because there is a growing number of Spanish speakers in the community in which I live. There’s a pretty good chance that I’ll have many opportunities to actually use Spanish here.

But I have digressed considerably from the original question of which language I would like to learn. Obviously, Spanish is my main focus right now, though I sometimes use the same app also to refresh my German skills and learn more Haitian Creole. But I can think of three languages off the top of my head that would be candidates for my next language effort: Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.

Where I live it is not uncommon to hear Chinese or Arabic being spoken, mostly because there are many international students here. Russian speakers are less common. What these languages have in common is that they all use different alphabets, and also that there are parts of the world in which those languages are used where the United States is not regarded with great affection (and sadly, the converse is often true, as well). If it is true, and I believe it is, that learning another language can contribute to cross-cultural understanding and communication, then I figure learning languages like these is a good investment of time and effort, even if I only rarely have the opportunity to use them.

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