The Power of Language

It’s 2006, an eleven-year-old naive boy has his bags packed by his mother and is carried into the car to embark on an early morning flight to Ixtapa, Mexico. His father packs the white suburban, carefully placing his grotesque yellow bag full of travel documents and passports in safe keeping while he carries his silver thermos of piping coffee to the driver's seat. The boy sleeps soundly through the car ride, sleepwalks through airport security and then is soon wide awake as he sits next to his mother on the plane full of people looking to escape the bleak Colorado winter. As the plane takes off, he sees his father take out a meager white book with a pen in hand. As his father drinks his third cup of coffee on the two and a half hour plane ride, he keenly studies the book throughout the flight. As the family of two patient parents and three rambunctious boys land, they quickly depart the airport and enter a taxi where his father says, “Vamos al mercado central y luego al hotel Bay View Grand.”

Every single day here in Ireland I hear someone speaking a different language than English, but why can’t I? My flatmate named An is from Taiwan; she is still improving her English, but will often look to me as the native speaker to teach her new words. It’s a pleasant retrospective way to think about why you call it a serving spoon rather than a big spoon. Also, she quickly asks our Latvian and French flatmates how to say some simple “Hello, thank you, goodbye” phrases in their language. Her curiosity and eagerness is inspiring to me and makes me want to continue to improve on languages in my life.

For eight plus years of schooling I studied Spanish almost every day, yet the first thing I remember is how much I resented conjugations. If only I had the perspective then, that I have now. Oh well, cuando la vida te da limones, take the sour part and throw it out the window and add a bit of sugar to it each day.

It’s taken me 24 years and six months for it to really sink in that I’m not okay with my mindset of, “Oh, most people speak English now, it’s fine.” My white, English speaking, American, privileged male self is finally realizing that in order to break down walls with people not like me, I have to continue to break down the walls within myself.

Statistics show that 75% of Americans have no second language, but I am tired of just being comfortable in the majority, how can I be empathetic from that.

I’m far from perfect, but I’m curious and I’m never going to let that curiosity within me stop from exploring this planet and the beautiful people that inhabit it. I’m 10 days in on my journey of learning Spanish on Duolingo and watching Narcos on Netflix… 700 more days until I become fluent, let’s give it a whirl. So… Pops, when I’m home from Ireland, let’s pull out that meager white book y aprende un poco de español juntos. Adiós mi amigos.


Jake SiegertComment