Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | May 1, 2015

Life Because of Language

Life Because of Language

Fabiola Mejia

The importance of language to life could not be more powerfully or accurately explained than in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous quote. Many associate language to a certain part of the world, believing that an area needs only one manner of verbal expression. The essential function of language tends to be to allow us to communicate with one another, which is important enough on its own. Yet if we search deeper for a greater purpose in language, we see how much it enables us to grow and to better understand the world. This is especially true for those exposed to more than one language from a young age.

Language is something that I have been keenly aware of since I was a child. Growing up in a large Mexican household and being sent to an English-speaking school offered me the opportunity to learn both languages simultaneously. The adults in my home spoke only Spanish and most had very little, if any, academic experience of their own. Knowing how hard it was to live in a country where English was the central language, my parents, especially my mother, encouraged my siblings and me to learn and speak both languages. At first, I thought that knowing another language was just another skill; but soon I learned that it would have many advantages.

As my siblings and I began speaking English more fluently, my parents would have us translate for them. At about eight years old, we were helping my mother make doctor’s appointments or pay bills over the phone when there was no Spanish interpreter available to assist them. For any mail they would receive in English, my siblings and I had to be ready to explain its contents to them as best we could. Even when we went to restaurants, my parents would allow us to order the food and tell them what the price came to. Knowing a language other than the one our family originally spoke gave my siblings and me a wonderful sense of capability as well as of responsibility.

Had we not been brought up to know two languages, I don’t believe that my siblings and I would have gotten a good understanding of what it is like to grow up. As children, translating the words off of bills for my parents was simple enough as retelling a story to someone. But as we grew and were actually able to understand what these papers were, we understood they were things we would be dealing with as adults ourselves. We came to know what due dates and minimum payments were, how appointments were supposed to be made to fit our schedules, and even to look up and explain new recipes to our mother.

I think the most valuable thing we learned by knowing two different languages, is the notion that we must help others with it. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve helped other Hispanic women at a grocery store or at a children’s clinic when they were unable to understand what something meant or what was being said to them. It seems like a little act, but I came to see that it made a big difference in their day where they might have made a small mistake. I became more aware of how many children still explain things to their parents who can’t speak a certain language and it makes me grateful that children can so easily learn to speak other languages. These experiences even inspired me to seek jobs where I could be a translator.

Now that I am a mother, I have made it my goal to encourage my daughter to speak both English and Spanish. She may want to learn a third or fourth language, and it would be something I would proudly support. I may not be able to give her the same lessons that my own parents taught me, but I will certainly explain the value in knowing several languages and why it would give her different perspectives of the world that she would not be able to see otherwise. In this, Wittgenstein’s quote stands true; life is only as vast as one’s language allows it to be.

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