Language classes provide future opportunities

Maeve Plunkett, asst. opinions editor

How many of your classes are teaching you something today that you could use in ten years? Probably not many of them. Sorry, math teachers, I’m not usually calculating my velocity while I drive to the Jewel, I have a speedometer for that. Of course math is important (see the column next door), but not always for practical reasons.

For the most part, the things we learn in our classes expand our minds and prepare us for college, not life. But you know which classes actually give you skills you can use? Language classes.

Staying awake in my language class actually came in handy this past summer when I participated in the German exchange, and I saw myself getting so much out of it in minor daily efforts while I bonded with my exchange partner and found my way around in a foreign land.

I remember in the weeks building up to the trip I was terrified I would use the wrong formal conjugation of a verb with my host parents or not be able to understand someone. I had never stressed or worked very hard in my German classes, and I worried that I hadn’t learned enough.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, I gave up on addressing people formally, and there were times when I needed people to slow down for me. But I could communicate. I bonded with my host family discussing slang (there is now a family in Southern Germany saying “salty”), politics (Trump, Brexit and racism, oh my!) and food.

But it wasn’t even the conversations with my host family that impacted me the most. It was walking around cities and towns, speaking to people in their native language and sensing the gratitude in their responses.

Speaking to someone on their own terms, in their own words, is rewarding for everyone. It’s rewarding to take a moment to give up the power we enjoy for having our language so widely spoken and get on someone else’s level.

Like I said before, I never had to go to great lengths to reach this level of coherency. I think the most worthwhile thing I ever did in class was staying in the target language as much as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to be the person who keeps it up when everyone else has resorted back to English. But if you keep fighting to ground your mind in the new language, it pays off.

If human interaction isn’t enough reason for you, let’s talk money. Being able to speak and understand another language can set you apart when looking for a job and earning a salary. According to Minnesota State Careerwise Education, studies show that speaking a foreign language leads to, on average, a salary 2.6 percent higher than people who only speak one.

In addition, according to the latest census, over 20 percent of people in America say that English is not their first language. Being able to communicate with one–fifth of the nation’s population is not just a fun skill, it’s important.

In a day and age where people increasingly refuse to listen to each other, learning to communicate with people different than yourself is more important than ever. So next time you think about zoning out or taking a nap in your language class, think again. Take those small steps your teachers ask for because it will enrich your life and others’ lives if you can communicate with just one more person than you could before.