The following article was written by Ian Roback. Ian, a 2017 Global Citizen Scholarship recipient, believes language has the power to connect people on a deeply personal level. He’s traveled to six countries so far and hopes to continue exploring different cultures by traveling to many more!
I want to see the world as other cultures do and experience those cultures on a personal level. That is why learning a second language is important to me. I have studied French for six years, and it wasn’t until I traveled to France and spoke with locals that the language made its greatest impact on me.
My family is rooted in the belief that language learning increases cultural appreciation. My mother insisted that I learn a language and commit to it throughout high school. As I traveled, I was taught to reflect on the ways people communicated. Other cultures can see the world in a different philosophical sense and may have an expanded vocabulary for words that don’t even exist in other languages.
While learning French, I was dumbfounded when my teacher told us that the word for “like” and “love” was the same. If I were to like someone or something, in French – I also loved it. The culture is very focused on relationships but does not worry about the specific ways to classify such connections. For example, if someone is a boyfriend or girlfriend they are only stated as a companion. I fell in love with the French language and it became very personal for me because of these types of focuses on relationships.
My relationship with French blossomed when I first traveled to France. I stayed with a family that did not speak much English, so I made a concerted effort to practice my French with them. As my confidence grew, I found myself at a creperie ready to become fully immersed in the culture. I cracked my knuckles and began to order in French. Let me tell you, I nailed it. My host family once told me that as long as I try and use the language, people will be forgiving. While I may have been ordering baguettes with an American accent, I was trying to immerse myself in the culture– and it did not go unnoticed.
On my second trip to France, I stumbled into a sandwich shop next to Versailles, where the man working was so used to tourists coming in that he spoke both fluent French and English. My friends all ordered in English and I ordered last. As I spoke in French the man looked at me and in French said, “tourists huh?” then gave me a discount. It was the most exciting experience of my life. I could feel the French just spewing out like English always had. After several mistakes in learning a language, I could communicate with someone enough to carry on a small conversation like a fluent speaker.
Last year, a group of exchange students visited our school and spent a lot of time with my French class. The entire time they were here I was able to converse with ease. When it came time for them to leave we were still laughing about traveling stories and their vacation in America.
French has allowed me to connect with people on a level I never thought possible. I hope to make more connections in the future as I continue to work on my language skills and explore new cultures.