The language of us
Words we use have the ability to bridge divides.
December 2, 2021
Language is a key component to navigating our daily lives, whether it’s through communicating with family or friends, a class taken at school, or simply reading. While most people speak one language–the one they’ve grown up with–many choose to become fluent in a second language through immersion, or become fluent in a language outside home.
According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the percentage of Americans aged 18 and older, who are proficient in another language, increased from 8.1% in 2000 to 21% by 2014. This increase in bilingualism is aided by several factors, including the increased arrival of immigrants passing on their languages and growing amounts of language learning opportunities (such as immersion curriculum) for children.
“Speaking the same language as someone else, in a place where it isn’t the most common language, is a good way to connect.” ”
— junior Andrew Bai
Junior Andrew Bai is fluent in both English and Chinese, which he mainly uses with his family and relatives. Bai’s bilingualism also helps him communicate with friends and neighbors in the Chinese community surrounding him.
“I think it [being bilingual] opens more opportunities for me in my life, being able to communicate with more people and in a way, speaking the same language as someone else in a place where it isn’t the most common language is a good way to connect,” Bai said.
A second language can be acquired and taught in several ways including learning the language at school or through programs outside. Learning language because of family background and heritage, or because of the region are two common examples that create bilingualism. For example, Quebec is the francophone province in Canada, meaning the main language spoken is French. However, the majority of Canadians still speak English, coming to a total of 75.4%.
For freshman Alba Markowitz-Mulet, Spanish is an acquired language by both family background and location. Markowitz-Mulet, who speaks English and Spanish, uses language as a way to connect with family.
“It allows me to converse and keep up with my mom’s family who live in Spain, and is a part of myself that I get to share with my friends and the community around me,” she said.
Spanish is also a significant part of her culture and life experiences. “Being bilingual allows me to access entirely different cultures, media, and ways of life as well as the ability to talk to different groups of people,” Markowitz-Mulet said, “Spanish is very important to me because I grew up speaking it and it’s always been something I have been proud of.”
Bilingual or multilingual people often have different experiences juggling two or more languages. Upper School French teacher, Aimeric Lajuzan, speaks both French and English and studied Spanish for years. His native language, French, is a way for him to connect with his culture and identity, “I don’t do much ‘French stuff’ aside from some music and movies/shows, so the language is a way to stay connected to one of my identities,” Lajuzan said.
Lajuzan’s bilingualism also shaped his career and life today. “I took a summer job at Concordia Language Villages when I was in college, mostly as a way to travel to the US. It ended up changing my life because I discovered how much I loved teaching a language, and because I ended up working there 10 summers and meeting my wife in the process!” He said.
His favorite part of speaking multiple languages is seeing how his children, who speak French, English, and Swedish, adapt by switching between languages and identities.
Being bilingual is a unique trait that impacts the lives of many, mainly by creating connections to other people and cultures. Although it may come with the difficulties of learning to code-switch or feeling alienated, speaking multiple languages is intertwined with countless positive day-to-day experiences. In an increasingly connected world, bilingualism defines and shapes the identities of many people as it opens opportunities to engage with surrounding communities.
Language is culture
Growing up, children learn the language that they are initially surrounded in, which acts as a tool to understanding both the people and the culture it is tied to. Culture and language go hand and hand as they both have impacts on what defines and shapes understandings and beliefs.
Language was invented as a tool to allow us to better understand each other. It allows us to communicate our feelings, beliefs, emotions, to find connections within one another, to see how we relate and how we differ.
“If you don’t understand the culture, not knowing that language could create misunderstandings.””
— Rolando Castellanos
Culture is also an expression, one that uses language to make connections and build relationships between a group of people. To understand one’s culture, it is essential to understand their language and the way in which that culture might think and perceive things.
“Language could be a cultural barrier in more than one way because of the lack of understanding and how to communicate effectively. If you don’t understand the culture, not knowing that language could create misunderstandings among people,” Spanish teacher Rolando Castellanos said.
Different cultures often represent different values and express them through their language in various ways. Even though we express things differently based on the culture or the language we are familiar with, can language really determine how we perceive the world?
Again, the settings we grow up in (therefore the cultures and languages we are surrounded by) will inevitably influence how we view the world. It is very difficult to express a feeling without being aware of what it is or without having a word to define it.
Among the many benefits that come from being multilingual, speaking multiple languages allows individuals to connect and understand different cultures and communities. It can be difficult to directly translate concepts between languages. Understanding more languages can mean understanding a more diverse range of people, cultures, and places throughout the world.