Tu To (left) a junior accounting major from Hanoi, Vietnam exploring culture in Madrid, Spain.
I came to Troy two years ago. During my freshman year, I didn’t really have any issues with communicating in English. Years of having my nose in the grammar books and binge-watching popular American TV shows equipped me with sufficient English proficiency, not only to survive in my new daily life but also to ace all my classes.
I took two Spanish classes to fulfill my general requirements. I enjoyed being able to know some Spanish and a bit of their cultures, but at that time I didn’t intend to pursue the language any further.
This spring semester, I went to Belgium on an exchange program. There, I was so amazed by the number of languages Belgian people can speak.
I was studying in the Dutch-speaking part, so obviously their first language is Dutch, or what the locals call Flemish. The three official languages of Belgium are Dutch, French and German, so most Dutch-speaking people will know either French or German as their second language. Some even know both. They also speak English very well thanks to the availability of English audio media, making English count as a third language, at least.
As a result, it wasn’t hard to find someone who can converse interchangeably in three or four different languages in Belgium.
I didn’t learn much Dutch while I was there because it was just so convenient and comfortable speaking English with everyone that I didn’t feel the need to speak Dutch. However, as they made knowing different languages seem achievable, I was inspired to continue with my Spanish.
This past summer, I went to Spain. Before that, I could never imagine how my elementary Spanish would get me around.
In Spain, especially in small cities like the one I was living in, finding someone who can understand and respond in English was not easy. That was when my elementary Spanish jumped into play.
Using what I picked up in school and from my self-study, I was able to hold conversations with Spanish people I met, and I learned so much about the culture from them.
If I hadn’t known any Spanish, I would not have had the chance to live in Spain this summer and soak up all the cultures it offered. I would never have had the chance to participate in a local fiesta and to eat the best homemade paella there was, and I would definitely not have gotten to discover the hidden gems in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona. The opportunities another language has to offer are unlimited.
We are living in an English-dominant world, which means that anyone can survive basically anywhere just knowing English. However, elsewhere — in Belgium, for example — people are taking advantage of their multilingual ability every day, enriching the lives of themselves and future generations.
As cross-cultural communication is increasingly interwoven and important, I think it is essential to be able to communicate in at least one language other than your own.