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On Language Acquisition


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by Andrew Boas, Abbey Road Student, France 2014

The acquisition of linguistic skills and cultural understanding is an all-encompassing and constantly growing aspect of both my education and my life. As a particularly globally-minded person, the ability to speak to anyone I meet with confidence is something I never cease to cherish. Throughout my linguistic endeavors, I have learned to converse and write in many languages including English, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Hebrew, Latin, and French. While I would like to stress that I am by no means an expert on language acquisition, and that there are many different paths to “fluency,” I do have many tips and tricks for fellow linguaphiles, polyglots, and language learners.

I essentially believe that the only way to become properly conversational and fluent in a language is to practice. No matter where I am, I try to take advantage of the linguistic opportunities that are presented to me. At school, I make an effort to talk to all of my international friends in their respective native tongues. Many are extremely appreciative and often thank me for working so hard to converse with them in the language in which they feel they can truly express themselves. While it does take a lot of courage to begin talking with native speakers in a language you have just begun studying, I can promise that anyone who tries this technique will often be met with appreciation and kindness. This particular approach has worked so well for me that after six months of practicing Portuguese with my Brazilian friends at school, many native Brazilians have even confused me for a Rio de Janiero native. Practicing a language with friends not only helps you to properly understand grammar and vocabulary, but also gives you a deeper look into culture and dialect, allowing you to transcend the “foreigner trying to speak my language” stereotype.

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All forms of foreign language media are massively beneficial for language acquisition. I personally wake up in the morning and turn on my phone to approximately ten international newspapers, skimming through headlines and occasionally looking up words that I do not know. This helps me to clarify vocabulary context and understand important international events. As an observer of international relations and a Model United Nations Delegate, the cultural understanding that foreign language news provides me is vitally valuable. One of my favorite personal examples of the importance of keeping up with international news is my work at the Italian Consulate of Miami. Through earning an internship at the consulate’s cultural branch, I have begun to assist the administration in teaching Italian to students from many different countries. At the consulate, I am able to consistently engage in discussion with my older colleagues about Italian politics and economics. These discussions have been particularly gratifying and enable me to practice my language skills, strengthen my understanding of international relations, and most importantly, make friends.

One of my most valued methods for language acquisition has become listening to popular foreign language music. This enables me to bridge the “gap” associated with cultural differences and delve further into the metaphoric meanings of vocabulary. I have greatly enjoyed listening to foreign language music while driving in the car, doing homework, reading, and even while singing along in the shower. Music is an international icon of self-expression and allows me to make connections with both a language and its people.

Language and culture acquisition has changed many of my views and enhanced my global perspective. I have become a better student and citizen through my study of foreign languages and cultures, and more importantly, have made many incredible friends along the way. I cherish every moment of my cultural and linguistic experiences and truly value my ability as a citizen of Miami to interact with people from around the world. As Nelson Mandela once said, I believe that “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” This sentiment has become my motto of sorts and has helped me to understand the inherent value in learning foreign languages and engaging in foreign cultures. Therefore, the point when you realize that you have succeeded in your linguistic and cultural endeavor is when that foreign culture stops being foreign.

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