Learning a second language helps immerse yourself in another culture

When other students ask where my hometown is, they are usually shocked to find out it is not around the Chicago suburbs. To be honest, I am not surprised.

Many students at this University come from the Chicagoland area, and I feel as though as a Filipino living in a town that is 95 percent white, I don’t fit the racial demographics of my hometown.

I am from a small, rural town called Rosiclare, Ill. It is located in Hardin County, and the green population sign at the entrance of the town says 1,400, but I really think it is less than that.

While growing up in Rosiclare, my parents would speak to me in both English and their native language, Filipino. Specifically, my parents speak the dialect of Bisaya. For example, my mom would tell me to bring down my “bulingon” to the basement or to take the “basura” outside. To translate, she was telling me to bring down my dirty clothes and to take out the trash.

But unfortunately, my ability to learn that language stopped after a few words and phrases.

When my parents speak to me in Bisaya, I am only able to understand parts of the sentence. Most of the time, I am not sure what they are saying.

For instance, one time during the Christmas season, my mom was wrapping up gifts in our living room, and she told me “‘kuka gunting’ from the kitchen drawer.” All I knew was that I needed to go into the kitchen and get something from the drawer.

I go in the kitchen and grab the first thing I see, which is a screwdriver. It turns out she wanted the scissors. That could have just been because I didn’t make the connection of gift wrapping and scissors, but we’ll just go with not understanding Bisaya.

But I was always so resistant to learning Bisaya because after finally learning English, I never felt like I needed to learn another language. My parents would speak to my sister and I in a mix of English and Bisaya. And all of my friends in Rosiclare just spoke English. 

But after numerous miscommunications with my parents, I realized the importance of learning their native language. In hindsight, it was pretty dumb not to be more welcoming to the idea in the first place.

In fact, learning a foreign language has many benefits.

Students who study foreign languages tend to perform better on problem-solving tasks. Knowing a foreign language also helps individuals develop skills to better cope with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. And, multilingual people are more skilled at multitasking.

Those reasons are obviously good incentives to pick up a foreign language. But, what I think is most important for learning a second language is beyond scientific reasons.

Learning another language is the first step in learning about another culture. My parents were able to become more immersed in the American culture while still retaining their own culture.

While my parents grew up in the Philippines, they were taught both English and Bisaya. That is a common teaching practice in several countries. Even schools here in the United States are beginning to teach foreign languages to students at younger ages. It puts children around the world at an advantage to be able to learn and maybe live in cultures other than their own.

My dad decided he wanted to practice medicine in America and raise a family here. The transition was made easier because he already learned the language of the country.

I still don’t know how to speak Bisaya well at all. Sometimes, I miss out on conversations my parents are having. My sister learned more of the language than I did, so there are times when my parents are conversing in Bisaya and I am the only one that is left out of the loop.

But I am still grateful to just be exposed to another language on a daily basis. It reminds me that there is a world out there waiting to be explored and cultures worth learning. I like to think while growing up, I had two lives: My life as a member of the Hardin County community and then my life at home as a first-generation Filipino.

Knowing a second language will make your life more interesting. It allows you to communicate to a wider range of people. It provides a new approach to thinking and a new perspective on life. Humans were meant to communicate. Being multilingual means you get to talk to even more people on this planet. 

And, maybe it will save you from looking like a fool and grabbing the wrong tool.

Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]