When the MC Table Tennis team won the National Championship last spring, I was privileged to attend the celebratory dinner with my friend on the team, Ty Brogdon. We dressed to the nines and headed to the Phillips House to join Dr. Royce and the champions to recognize their achievement. Soon after we arrived, I found myself completely lost. I knew where I was physically, of course, but the conversation moved past the realm of my understanding. At this moment, I realized that everyone in the circle but me was speaking in Chinese.
Ty graduated with a degree in Foreign Language and International Trade (FLIT). Within this program, he took the opportunity to study abroad in Wuhan, China. The other players on the team all hailed from China. Dr. Piletz, who teaches Biology, is married to Mei-Chi Piletz, the Director of the Office of Global Education, and he also speaks Chinese. And then there was me.
Obviously, one can not learn every language and be adept in every conversation, but everyone can make an effort to branch out of their comfort zone and practice another language. I took Spanish classes all four years of high school, and I liked it so much that I added a Spanish minor when I got to Mississippi College.
Other than the obvious benefits of studying under professors like Dr. Stapleton, learning another language brings about so many bright spots of life that often go unnoticed. The classroom atmosphere is encouraging, the curriculum presents a new perspective, and the subject calls for introspection.
It's fun to make mistakes in a learning environment. I've observed that our culture can be perfectionist to a fault. This can lead to a lot of pressure and anxiety even on normal things such as communication. When learning a new language, one is put into a low-pressure environment. Language teachers encourage their students to talk (in the new language) in class. Is everyone's grammar perfect? No. Does everyone use all the right words? No. Is it a positive constructive atmosphere? Yes.
The very nature of learning a new language is fascinating. It's a process like building a new house. One must establish a foundation, add supporting parts, and then finalize construction with walls and roof. After that, one can decorate it as they choose and add their own personal flair. In the same way, language classes teach new material to achieve some fundamental skills. After that, one can take language with them anywhere and use it to communicate in a new avenue.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of learning something new is learning about yourself. Many assignments require students to describe themselves. It's challenging to utilize the few words one knows to create a unique profile to portray themselves to the classmates. Another element of learning about oneself comes with learning about others. When one is presented with how another culture lives their daily life, one can reflect on their choices and habits with a fresh outlook. I, for one, think that it would be lovely to adopt the Spanish practice of taking a daily siesta!
That night at the Table Tennis dinner I wished that I knew Chinese so that I could pick up on all of the side conversations. Luckily, we all talked in English during the meal. That experience made me appreciate what I had learned in my time studying English and Spanish and motivated me to not be satisfied in my learning. I think that moments where we realize that we don't have it all figured out are what propels us to our greatest growth. Language classes offer this lesson in daily doses.
Until next time,
Spanish student, movie fan, college senior.