Learning a Second Language Made Me a Better Writer

Well, in all actuality, learning another language gave me a lot of things.

This story begins many years ago in my freshmen year of high school. Two years of a foreign language was a graduation requirement. I chose Spanish, being that it’s more widely used than Italian or even German. Looking back it wouldn’t have mattered what language I chose, just that I chose a language.

I took my first year of Spanish from a wonderful woman who knew her stuff. She had the colorful worksheets, vocabulary crosswords, speaking skits… the whole shebang. Looking back, I had the beginning of a solid foundation in a new language.

I progressed into my sophomore year of high school with a different teacher. High school schedules were created as if the students were on a roulette wheel. Students randomly got scheduled with whomever teacher was available even if they requested someone specifically. With this new teacher, everything I learned that year was out the window, like my dog’s head on a sunny day.

This new teacher had us watch American movies with Spanish dubbing, and English subtitles.

Needless to say, I learned absolutely nothing, and I left my sophomore year abhorring Spanish. I didn’t understand it. Everything I learned was lost on my young adolescent brain and goldfish attention span.

Flash forward several years to my freshmen year in college. Again, language was a requirement for a BA degree. I had two, and language wasn’t an option.

I took my first year and fell in love all over again. My professor was like my freshmen high school teacher, but better because she was from Mexico. She explained things in ways no one else ever had (including my amazing teacher). Her name was Mara, and I will never forget her.

She was funny, made us do activities outside of the classroom that made us actually learn, and more importantly…

She taught me about language.

Not just Spanish, English too. She taught me grammar in ways my writing composition instructors could only dream of.

Why?

Because she was a linguist.

She knew the ins and outs of sentence structure, the purpose of indirect object and direct object pronouns, and how crucial placement of words and phrases are in sentences.

I went onto second year Spanish, and had the joy of working with her yet again.

For my third year, I had a different professor. But again, she was just as amazing. My second professor was an English speaker first and foremost, but her classroom brought a lens and a perspective from the other side — the challenges of learning Spanish from a primarily English speaker.

She also encouraged me to study abroad. The last term of my junior year, I had the amazing opportunity to immerse myself in Spanish culture for five full months. I bounced around Europe like a zig-zagging fruit fly.

Learning another language gave me an appreciation for other cultures, a respect of other’s ways of life, a gateway to travel, an experience I will treasure… Most importantly, learning another language made me a better writer. It made me appreciate my culture just as much as other’s.

While in Spain, I got to learn Spanish with a different teacher. Her name was Maru, and I won’t forget her either. She reminded me of my mother. She had curly hair chopped at her jawline, a round face, a sweet cotton-candy smile, and she wore floor-length skirts every day. She had a hearty, contagious laugh. She also didn’t speak a lick of English.

One thing that I pulled from all my teachers over the many years of learning another language, was that I am capable of something challenging. Learning another language is hard, but it’s also rewarding.

There are benefits beyond just being able to speak another person’s way of life on your tongue.

There is beauty in communicating. There is admiration in learning other cultures through their language. You can hear their history in your words, live parts of their past in your sentence structure.

As an English major I took many classes on sentence structure, rhetoric, grammar, and voice. I’ve read three different editions of The Elements of Style for three different courses alone.

But the one thing that these courses never taught me, were all the things my professors assumed I knew.

Learning another language filled in those gaps!

I learned about pronouns, compound sentences, verb agreement, direct objects pronouns, indirect object pronouns, active and passive voice, predicates, clauses… The list goes on and on. The point is, learning another language fills in the gaps of your learning that is already assumed when you learn to speak.

When you were learning to speak, your parents did not sit you down and formally lecture you telling you, “Oh Honey, you just said a proper noun! That could be my name, a name of someone else, a town, a one-of-a-kind item, or a title. Oh, Sweetie, I’m so proud!”

Nope.

We just said “Mom”.

That’s it.

No one breaks these things down for us. No one teaches us how to diagram sentences anymore. No one teaches you about independent clauses, the use of a proper comma (or that there are 8 rules for usage), or even the importance of introductory clauses.

But, learning another language will teach you the important things!

Among learning about the importance and beauty behind diversity, gaining a skill, and being able to communicate with others… I was taught how to properly communicate using a language I have spent twenty-five years learning.

I learned English by learning Spanish.

If you haven’t already learned another language, I’m pleading you to do so. It will make you a better writer, but more importantly, it will make you a better person.

I really like to take words and make coherent sentences with them. [A writer discussing the chaos that is living, and everything in between.]

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