Walking through the church fair at Bethel College, I looked around at the many tables with volunteers reaching out to students about their church. My friend and I stopped by a random table and introduced ourselves.
“Hi, my name is María José,” I said, smiling at the volunteer.
“Hola! ¿Hablas español? – Do you speak Spanish?” he immediately asked me.
The conversation took off from there, all in Spanish, about who I was, where I was from, and about the benefits of their church’s Spanish opportunities.
Through this whole conversation, I was grateful I grew up speaking two languages. The ability to connect with the volunteer in his own language really helped me make the connection deeper.
A Census Bureau study reports that only one out of five people in the United States speak a second language. There are numerous benefits to learning and being fluent in another language. Language Connections Foundations reveals that learning a second language strengthens the mind, expands perspectives, builds better connections, and improves future career options in a world where three out of four people do not speak English.
Learning a second language needs to start young when it is the easiest. During the developmental years, children’s brains are still developing and learning how to communicate. Ghent University notes how children unconsciously learn new language rules and easily apply them to how they talk, contrary to older learners. One way to help the next generation connect and relate with others is by promoting and supporting immersion schools.
There is a significant social advantage to knowing a second language. A Cambridge University study reveals that cognitive skills of bilingual speakers “supports high-level thought, memory, attention and multitasking.” Bilingual individuals constantly assess situations differently depending on the language and culture they are immersed in.
Learning Spanish as a child allowed me to become fluent at such a young age. This knowledge allowed me to communicate with my grandparents who could not speak English. I have learned adaptability, discovered a whole new world, and realized incredible potential for my future all because of another language. Individuals can benefit and connect with others if they would only take the time to learn a second language. With the growing diversity in our country, it is critical that more people start to learn and become fluent in a second language.
This story was produced at ThreeSixty’s Op-Ed Workshop in fall 2023. María José worked with North News editor David Perini and retired St. Thomas editor Patty Petersen to finish her story. Click here to read more stories from the workshop.