12/30/2020

BLOG #1


Too often do students take consecutive language classes in school, put in a halfhearted effort, then proceed to forget the language forever. Several students feel insecure about this but never find the means to reacquire the language, while others simply brush it off, laughing like they did not care in the first place.


Whether due to a shortcoming in the educational system or a flaw in students’ mindsets, or a combination of both, this problem has existed for too long, and it is simply not a laughing matter.


Secondary education emphasizes STEM and the Humanities as core requirements, whereas languages and other electives are relegated as secondary requirements. The issue is clear: languages in school, for the most part, are seen as a requirement to fulfill, a set of classes to overcome, and simply a subject to study – not as a skill to acquire.


Growing up, I, along with my peers, were textbook examples of this very problem.


On his last day as a high school student, I remember my Spanish teacher saying goodbye to all the seniors in her class.


Facing me, she stated: “Your Spanish-speaking journey doesn’t end here, Cameron. In California, you’re going to need to speak Spanish a lot. Especially with the locals.”


I remember smiling, albeit slightly reluctantly, because at that time, I knew that my Spanish skills were going to be forgotten soon after graduation. Because in my mind, I felt that only knowing English in the U.S. would suffice.


In that Spanish class, most students were hardworking but never expressed an outright desire to attain proficiency in Spanish. Students aimlessly went through the motions of grammar and conjugation lessons, and often considered the least arduous path to getting a top grade.


Memorization of one-time use vocabulary (such as articles of clothing, fruits and animals) was mandated. Quite possibly, the only time students spoke the target language was during the 80-minutes of class time. Students were mediocre at best, and the worst part was that they were content with mediocrity.


While once indifferent to the importance of language learning, my mindset fundamentally changed after taking Linguistics 1 with Professor Dominique Sportiche during Winter Quarter 2020.


Although the content of LING 1 was highly abstract and technical, I was exceptionally intrigued by language acquisition, the evolution of languages and computational linguistics. Even more so, I was curious about polyglotism.


Upon watching numerous videos of polyglots conversing almost fluently in multiple languages with others, I was inspired. These individuals were not influencers claiming to “speak” 20+ languages while only being capable of speaking simple phrases and greetings. They actually were able to transition between the languages instantaneously, without prior preparation.


At this pivotal moment, the memory of once overlooking language classes in high school frustrated me tremendously and compelled me to take action. Outside of college coursework, I began researching autodidactic techniques utilized by language enthusiasts on my quest to reacquire the Spanish language.


I devised my “home base,” a personal language-learning spreadsheet that contained the most common verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, articles, prepositions and slang. I added extra sections dedicated to grammar and conjugations.


Then, I began writing short sentences in a “language diary” everyday without using Google Translate. This was the very first time in my life that I wrote in a diary.


After the first month, I assessed myself by attempting to converse with a native Spanish speaker. Despite several hiccups, I was able to, for the most part, “think” in the target language. I was amazed at the progress I had made.


Although I am occasionally vexed by the lack of progress I made in my non-native languages throughout middle school and high school, I am truly happy with my momentous decision to reacquire Spanish (other languages will soon follow) for the sake of learning itself. I will continue this deep passion for as long as I live.


I want to thank my fellow board members Charanpreet, Megan, Cindy, Alexandria, Miranda and Camila for sharing this vision and for continuing to spread the message of BPS across campus.