I may never learn a second language
My name is Katie. I’m white. English is my first language. I was born in Southern California and had lived there almost my entire life before transferring to CAL. My siblings and I had access to a quality elementary school, junior high, and high school education. Learning a second language was not something that had even crossed my mind as a child in elementary school and was never mentioned by my mother. Taking a language course in junior high was not required. I can’t even remember if language courses were offered. It wasn’t until I entered high-school that I became remotely interested in and required to attempt to learn a second language. I was told that Spanish would be the most “useful” for living and working in Southern California. I took Spanish for 3 years and really enjoyed it. I had mastered simple conversation and could hold my own during occasional mission trips to Mexico with my church. I went to a junior college after I graduated high school and thought it would be fun to continue learning Spanish. I enrolled in an intermediate course and week after a week of the professor poking fun of me for not rolling my “r”s correctly, I dropped the class and gave up Spanish all together. Up until then Spanish really hadn’t been “useful” to me, and I wasn’t going to pay money to have this woman humiliate me for no good reason. My Spanish was decent. I could communicate with native speakers regardless of whether or not my “r”s were rolled with native-like rolly-ness.
A few years later at a different community college, I tried my hand at French. I did well both semesters, but didn’t care for the language and forgot 95% of what I had learned a few months after classes ended. When I came to CAL I realized many students were bilingual, many were even poly-lingual. I felt embarrassed. I could count to 20 in more than a few foreign languages, and had great manners in French, Spanish and English, but I was by no means fluent in any other language than English. Feeling the pressure, I decided to enroll in Italian. I had always wanted to go to Italy and thought this would be a good chance to familiarize myself with the language before i planned a trip there. I fell in LOVE with the language. It came easy to me and my previous schooling in Spanish and French helped as well (their only ‘real’ use in my life so far, I thought to myself).
I planned a trip to Italy the following semester and was eager to communicate in my new tongue. When I got to Italy I was surprised at how little I actually needed to use my Italian. Besides the taxi drivers, most everyone spoke English. I can only speak from this one perspective, and I was in Rome, so I understand that English is somewhat the International travel language. But even if I tried to use my Italian I received responses in English. It was almost like “aww, you’re so cute trying to speak Italian. But how unnecessary, because we were already taught your language when we were 3.” I felt robbed. Spanish had served me well during my missions trips in high school. But it did me little good after that, unless you count the curse words and Spanglish I used while joking around with my Spanish-speaking co-workers at a cafe I used to work at. So I feel like I have come full circle. I am the embodiment of my apathetic roots. Like the people who didn’t give a second thought to learning a second language because. . .what was the point? Everybody speaks English now, right? Wrong, everybody doesn’t, and I know this. But I feel like learning a second language will only do me good right now if I am going to immerse myself in a culture that speaks a foreign language, become a translator, or teach English to ESL students. And I don’t plan on doing any of the above anywhere in the near future, or ever. I’m not saying it is pointless for me to learn a second language, I’m just waiting for a reason. I feel, deep down, that is IS necessary. That I SHOULD know a second or third or fourth language, but up until now, the only things that had been driving me were the excitement (which was shot down in Italy) and embarrassment of not being on the same level as my academic peers. And to be honest, neither one of those seem like a very good reason. I also understand the cognitive benefits of being bilingual, but the older one gets the harder it is to learn a second language, let alone become fluent in one. I think my chance has passed me by, and I can’t put my finger on why, but it makes me sad.