Thrown in a new environment, struggling to catch up, junior Gabriela Rivera-Vega moved to the US when she was three. She had spent her life in Germany before that, learning three languages at one time.
“There was a bit of a culture shock for some words. In Mexico, or with Tex Mex, their informal “what” is our normal formal “what.” We use this when we don’t understand what someone is saying. There are other words too. There is a word in Puerto Rican Spanish that means “take” but in Mexico, it’s a curse word,” Rivera-Vega said.
Rivera-Vega did live in Germany, but after she moved, she didn’t use the language and lost her fluency.
“I don’t really have a definite first language. I was born in Germany, so I was learning English and Spanish at home, but then I was sent to a German pre-school. I was learning three languages at once. Sadly, I don’t remember any German because I moved back to the US when I was three, so I forgot all my German,” Rivera-Vega said.
The main way people stay fluent in a language is practicing and talking to other people.
“I mainly use English, but I speak Spanish at my home with my mom,” senior Fernando Morales said.
Learning a new language is not easy; a lot of time and effort must be put in to achieve fluency.
“You have to be consistent with practicing. You can sit and listen to music in that language, read in that language, and talk in it. Write every once in a while,” junior Nhi Ngyugen said. “I was born and raised in Vietnam, so at the age of seven, we moved to the United States. I had such a bad accent but it’s gone now. I caught up. What helped me the most was sitting around and watching TV, like Disney channel.”
Typically the listening and speaking aspects of a language come first, just like when children learn to speak first instead of writing their names and letters.
“I would probably be more focused on the listening and speaking aspect. There is an audio book called Pimsler. Because I spend so much time in a vehicle, I learn by listening. That’s how children learn and they listen. If you really focus on the listening and speaking aspect, then you can later focus on the writing. As adult learners, if we see the word then we are likely to focus on the rules and the spelling and pronunciation, rather than just listening and repeating what we are hearing. For an adult learner, audio programs are the best,” ESL teacher Carrie Abbas-Esterada said. “You can also go to classes. North East Independent School District offers ESL classes, free of charge. If anyone wants to learn a second language can learn a second language through NEISD. The other languages may have a small fee, but they are really good classes.”
English can be a challenging to learn as a second language.
“English is considered one of the most challenging languages to learn as a second language. One thing that proves to be a challenge for a lot of students is the phonetic system of the English language. Many languages words are spelled how they are pronounced. There is maybe one pronunciation of a letter, so just reading and pronouncing words is a lot easier in other languages. In English, there are so many exceptions to the rules. Not only do we have spelling, but we have homophones and homonyms, then they think that they know the pronunciation, but then we tell them that there is an exception to the rule. Essentially the phonetic systems makes it so difficult. Every time we turn around, there is an exception to the rule,” Abbas-Esterada said.
English can be difficult even for native speakers, so to learn it as a second language can be twice as challenging.
“My favorite language is Vietnamese because it’s not as complex as English,” Nyugen said.
Spelling has also been a struggle for everyone learning the language.
“I like speaking Spanish. Everything is spelled exactly how it sounds. English just throws in all these rules and it’s confusing,” Rivera-Vega said.
Another great way to learn a language is to be completely immersed.
“When I was in high school, I did foreign exchange. I went to Mexico. I was sixteen when I went. I went to Chihuahua Mexico, which is south of El Paso. we didn’t have any native speakers in my school so we learned the basics. I went and I was really scared. It was really scary at first and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, what am I doing?’ After about two months I was understanding almost everything. No one was speaking English to me. It was all Spanish. At four months I was speaking quite fluently and at six months I was basically fluent in everything. I came back completely fluent,” Abbas-Esterada said.
Even though she’s bilingual, Nyugen wants to speak more languages and travel the world.
“I want to learn Chinese. Since I’m joining the military, I want to be stationed in Asia so then I can be emerged in a language and learn as much as I can. It can be any language there,” Nyugen said.“I want to travel to Korea. I would love foreign exchange to South Korea.”
Speaking new languages creates new opportunities.
“I think it’s important to speak multiple languages because it opens more doors and opportunities. If you want to go to a different country, you can’t expect them to converse with you in your language. You’re in their country, you should speak their language,” Rivera-Vega said.
There are also a lot of job opportunities and scholarships for people who are fluent in more than one language.
“When I went off to college, I got a scholarship because of my language skills-so it can also help with scholarship money. It was the best experience for me ever. In college, I went to Spain. It was actually a one-year exchange but I stayed for six years. In high school, if you have the opportunity, do it. In college, there are so many opportunities. Even if you aren’t studying foreign language, go on exchange. Getting out of the United States, emerging yourself in the language and culture is just so amazing and huge. Languages will change your view for everything. It will enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine,” Abbas-Esterada said.
Morales wants to travel the world as well, to places that may not even speak the languages he knows.
“I want to travel to Spain and Norway. I’ve been more interested in traveling to Brazil than Portugal itself. I just know Portuguese, not Brazilian Portuguese. I don’t really know the difference. They sound the same because they use a lot of the same basic words,” Morales said.
With all the craziness going on in the world, communication is such a big deal. Learning as many languages as possible opens as many doors as possible.
“Especially in this time period, with all of culture diffusion through the media, there are all these stereotypes about different cultures and actually speaking the language gives people the true idea and the true culture. Usually, in the media, you know what to say and not, but with the language, you actually know how to talk to people,” Rivera-Vega said.
With languages, people expand their opportunities and expand their life to as many people as they can. With communication, there is a better understanding of happiness, unity and gratitude around the world.
“Getting the world to know each other is why language is so important. If you can speak more than one language, you’re not trapped in one place. You can communicate with the rest of the world. That’s basically what living is,” Morales said.