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What Being Multilingual has Taught Me

I have been able to speak multiple languages my entire life. There isn’t really a period of time when I didn’t. As a multicultural human, I was immediately taught my mother’s language: Amharic and my father’s language: Italian.

Later on, after moving to Germany and starting an American military school, I learned English. Now, I am sixteen and have taken 6 years of French.

In all that time I have never been unhappy with my knowledge of languages. I believe it’s one of my favorite things about my life. I will admit, I’m not amazing at any of the languages. I often have pits in my middle of my sentences where I’ll forget words or pronunciations, but I retain the important things.

I may not understand the full and complex grammatical structures of all the languages I speak but I understand the idioms, and phrases, and the lilt of speech.

I think that’s the most important part. Knowing and understanding idioms is part of understanding other cultures. Understanding where phrases come from and what they mean to certain individuals in literally amazing. Just the thought that there is a set of words that mean totally different things depending on where you are, is amazing.

I am writing this because I have seen lots of schools here in America that only require one year of a foreign language and I find that atrocious. That isn’t enough time to learn idioms, it’s barely enough time to learn the basics. There is no point in taking just one year, you don’t understand the language any better and you definitely don’t understand the culture any better.
I believe that everyone should strive to learn new languages, don’t ignore the grammar, just don’t make it the principal part of the learning experience. Visit new places, meet new people, learn the essential vocabulary and the symbols and phrases. I believe that if everyone can do that we can all understand our neighbors better, and that can only lead to more peace.

Being multilingual has taught me that knowing other languages is knowing a piece of another culture. A person can’t say they understand a culture if they don’t speak the language because words and vocabulary are ingrained into the development of a culture. Language is the way that others communicate and pass on stories and myths, it is what joins them together and helps them understand each other.

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