Why learn a language?

Whenever I meet with high school students and their teachers, I always pose the following question, a question that would seem straightforward enough but which actually requires some degree of thought and reflection: Why is learning a foreign language so important?

Invariably, I’m met with more than a few blank stares before the first hand goes up—timidly—and that’s only if I don’t take the lead myself, just to ease students’ fears about exploring answers beyond the usual arsenal of teenage defenses: “Because it is” and “Because I have to.”

Once the designated student has identified him or herself as the fist to answer—the gatekeeper, as it were—the other students flood the classroom with ideas, each one more creative and clever than the last, chruning thought ripples into idea waves.

Here are a few of my favorite answers from the past five months:

It will be important for my future.

I will get into a better college and possibly get more financial aid from my dream college.

I will make more money and get a better job once I’m out of college.

There are lots of people in my community and country who speak a foreign language, and I wish I could speak to them.

I’ll be able to travel, live, and/or work in a foreign country some day.

I want to know what people are saying about me in another language; I want to be in on the secret.

I love music/film/literature and want a new genre of music/film/literature to listen to and understand.

If I fall in love with someone who speaks another language, I’ll want to speak to them and their family.

It will increase my knowledge of the world and give me more things to read.

It will mean more friends on Facebook.

There’s nothing better than seeing students go from floundering about to awash with ideas. And there’s no better introduction to immersion than this.

Follow these periodic posts for updates on our Inmersión en Español-Spanish Immersion program.

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