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Languages, Languages, Languages

Posted by on October 21, 2012

Languages are the corner stone to any society and culture. Each language has its own unique mindset and thought process which makes learning new languages fun, yet at the same time very frustrating. However, there is a misconception of learning new languages, especially by Americans, which is learning new languages it too hard and is an impossible task. It is amazing to me how many people overseas are at least bilingual and many educated people can speak English fluently. During the past couple of weeks I have encountered two instances, or “ah-ha” moments about the perception of languages, more specifically the English language. I recently took a weekend in Morocco’s capital city Rabat to visit the various sites like the beach and zoo. A couple of friends and I booked into hostel for the night (first hostel experience!) and during my stay I met a German student, Jacob, who was traveling through Morocco for a holiday. Like me, he was a student in, as he put it, the “Islamic Sciences” and was very well educated. During our first conversation the topic of languages came up and I asked Jacob if English was difficult for him to learn; the reason I asked this question was due to the notion that I have always thought that English was a difficult language to learn so I was interested in the German’s opinion. According to Jacob, English was very easy (which was a blow to my American pride). The way Jacob explained it was that English, unlike German and most languages around the world, do not have traits such as case endings and genders (German has 3 genders in its language which is crazy to say the least). That made me think on how English has permeated itself through globalization and how English is somewhat of a universal language with most of the educated population knowing English around the world.

The Second instance of me being “schooled” by a foreigner on his languages skills was on a Monday when I was on the campus of Moulay Ismail studying my Arabic. I saw a Moroccan friend, Fatima, on a balcony waiting for a class to start. She saw me and waved me over and asked if I wanted to join her and sit in on the class. I thought that would be an interesting experience so I obliged. I picked up a few words here and there from the professor (he was speaking in a mix of dialect and French, neither of which I know very well at this point and time) but the overall concept of the class was basic computer stuff. For example, what binary code is, what a modem is, etc.. After the class, we went and sat down in the professor’s café along with another friend from ISA, Colin, and another Moroccan student. It is worthy to note that of all the Moroccan students I have met, Fatima has to be my favorite. What I like about her is that, other than the fact that she is extremely nice and a pleasure spending time with, she goes out of her way in explaining Arabic to me. Unlike other Moroccan students who wouldn’t bother helping you and only wanted to talk to you because you’re a native English speaker, she doesn’t mind going over a packet from Arabic class going over the rules and concepts of the Arabic language. Now, going back to the café, it was Colin and I and a few Moroccan students talking about languages. There was one student in particular, Omar, who was practically fluent in English and again I had to ask: “was English difficult to learn?” and again the answer was no. The explanation that came with his answer was that essentially it’s up to the individual to learn a language. The classroom helps but the emersion and the daily usage really solidifies how a person learns a language.

My conclusion was Americans have a hard time learning other languages, is because English is the main language spoken in the country. There are obvious exceptions like your location (in Texas and Florida there might be a little bit more Spanish spoken and maybe in the Northeast a little French influence). But overall the stress of knowing multiple languages is usually during the period of life when young adults are entering the job market for the first time. It should be stressed much earlier, like when a person is 3-5 years old. Anyways this is just an observation of not how the English language is easy (because it’s really not there are very little rules and patterns to go by and pronunciation is ridiculous for none native speakers) but that foreign language in the United States isn’t stressed enough, and that is a issue that needs to be addressed especially with globalization and the connectivity of foreign markets.

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