The second I began my flight from Chicago O’Hare to Montreal, I realized what I was getting myself into. The girl sitting next to me was with her family in the seats in front of mine, and whenever they interacted, they spoke French.
When deciding to study abroad, Quebec became a top destination because it would expose me to fluent French speakers. I’ve been trying to learn French for almost two years, so surrounding myself with people who seem to effortlessly switch between English and French should hopefully improve my own linguistic skills.
From conversations to street signs and everything in between, everything in Quebec is both French and English. While this difference from USD’s monolingual campus is eye-opening, the situation is a crucial one for all individuals. Multilingualism is not only an advantage in an increasingly globalized society and workplace, it’s individually beneficial and crucial in maintaining cultural diversity.
While USD is known for its Center for Cultural Diversity, the country already has a very diverse population. According to the American Community Survey, more than one in five kids over the age of 5 (21%) speak a language other than English at home. These kids receive many benefits for their bilingualism, such as being able to learn new words easily, being able to use information in new way, coming up with solutions to problems and listening and connecting with others better.
Beyond simply language skills, scientists have found that bilingualism actually improves overall cognitive abilities and potentially prevents dementia in the future. Bilingual people also tend to have a heightened sense of their environment, which can improve their performances in any memory or mental tests.
Many people feel uneasy about foreign customs and languages. These people see English is the official language of the United States, and anything beyond that societal norm is unwelcome. With South Dakota’s Caucasian majority, opportunities to see and hear other languages are rare.
Sooner rather than later, Anglo-Americans will be the minority in this country; a wall along the southern border won’t change that. Globalization is dangerous in the fact that we’re simultaneously more connected and less diverse in the process: according to the BBC, at the current rate of one a fortnight, half our languages will be extinct by the end of the century. Language is a crucial part of humanity and is a staple in culture, history and politics.
College students preparing to enter the ever-changing workforce play an important role in embracing any and all languages and cultures. An open-minded, empathetic attitude strengthens both small- and large-scale communities, sewing together the country’s patchwork clusters of people into a unified, beautiful quilt.
There is no excuse for America not to change its outlook toward other languages. While young children might pick up a language easier, it’s never too late to start. USD hosts a languages department offering Spanish, German, French, Russian and Lakota, along with language table activities encouraging students to practice communicating with each other in a supportive environment.
Technology in the forms of online programs and apps like Duolingo can also make the language-learning more approachable. The individual and worldly benefits far surpass any hesitations. Those who refuse to acknowledge anything beyond their own single language will get left behind.
Let’s put on a new pair of shoes, willingly walking into unknown terrain. While it’s uncomfortable, it’s a necessary step this country can’t avoid much longer. Regardless of age or previous knowledge or experience, everyone should make an effort.
If you’re a USD student traveling abroad and would like to contribute to The Volante, please contact us at [email protected].