Constructing my Multilingual Perspective

For a while language was something that I didn’t understand because my entire environment was monolingual. English was the only language spoken at home, at school, and in my social life. Multilingualism was a privilege limited to those who had ethnic parents that taught them and what the Idaho public education system taught. 

I had a certain amount of jealousy for those who were able to speak multiple languages, especially those who were multilingual without study. When I entered college I knew that I would be spending a year abroad and wanted to take the opportunity to finally take up the challenge. I chose Spanish because I knew Spain was where I was going to be living and believed that it would be the most useful to me in my daily life.

Entering into a college level Spanish class without prior experience in learning another language was one of the most difficult academic challenges I have ever experienced. I was taking quizzes and tests that I didn’t understand how to study for. The class was immediately entirely in Spanish and my confusion with conjugations was profound. I received some of the lowest grades I have experienced in my academic career and wondered if I could pass the class at all. I lacked the fundamental building blocks that others who had learned languages before could stand on. 

Slowly I started to develop the fundamentals of the language. It has now been 2 years since I started to learn Spanish and over half a year since I have lived in Madrid. My Spanish is by no means perfect but I am extremely proud of the progress I have made. My personality is starting to come through in the language and I have started to develop my own kind of Spanish. It is a mix between the very formal educational format of Spanish and a variety of things I have picked up from different forms of media and living in Spain. My Spanish has a clunky rhythm to it as I pause and think, or ramble, and the words never seem to be in the right place in the sentence. I come up with weird translations that technically work, enough so that my point gets across.

I started to notice other people’s Spanish as well. One of my friends mainly speaks Spanish with their parents who are Mexican. In Spain, their Spanish sticks out but the people who live here often recognise that they don’t have as strong an American accent. We often speak in Spanish together but they often use different words I don’t recognise and vice versa. Another one of my friends has been learning Spanish in school for the majority of their academic career. They have a strong grasp of the language but their Spanish is less rigid than mine despite learning it in school. 

I feel as though Spanish is unique in the way that it varies from person to person. The language shifts from person to person based on region, education, and personality. It being the second most studied language in the world means it blends with a wide variety of other languages, mentalities, and ideas. The effect language has on our brains and our development is profound. Since starting to learn Spanish I have found that my perspective on certain topics and even how I communicate in English has changed. Now a Spanish word will come to my mind before an English one or Spanish will be better to communicate how I am feeling. 

I believe that a multilingual experience is somewhat essential for the human experience, no matter when it comes into your life. It creates more understanding and expands perspectives. Working for Smile and Learn has only solidified this idea. The platform strongly supports the bilingual experience as it aims to provide children with the opportunity to be exposed to other languages through games, stories and puzzles. I wish I had been exposed to other languages earlier in my life then maybe learning as an adult might not have been so difficult. My language journey is far from over and I plan to continue to learn and develop my Spanish. At some point in my life maybe I will try and integrate a third language to my repertoire.   

Quinn Levy

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