The HOPE Award
By Michele C. Dávila and Kristine Doll
Each spring the World Languages and Cultures Department holds an essay competition exploring the dynamic relationship between community and humanitarian service, education and leadership, particularly in the context of how these can improve our world. The contest is open to students who are majors or minors in the department. Essays are written in English or any of the languages represented by the department (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, and Spanish).
This year the students were asked to submit essays that responded to the following quote by Roger Bacon: “Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom”. This year’s entries were especially difficult to judge due to the quality of the essays. The committee decided to award three prizes and an honorable mention. The first prize, an award of $150.00 and publication in our newsletter Lingua Franca, is awarded to Samantha Trullo for “Knowledge of Languages is the Doorway to Wisdom”. Second prize goes to Nicolle Schwartz for “What Language Do You Think In?” with an award of $75.00 and publication in Lingua Franca. Third prize goes to Alex Rose for “Language: A Large Component of Culture” with an award of $50.00. An Honorary Mention is awarded to Vanessa Cunha for “Language: A Gateway to Wisdom.” Thank you to all who participated!
Knowledge of Languages is the Doorway to Wisdom
By Samantha Trullo
Roger Bacon said, “Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom”. Without it, the flame of compassion within our hearts would blow out and darkness would take over. Human interactions between cultures would cease to exist and war and hatred would take over. If people cannot express their emotions through some type of verbal or nonverbal communication, how can we understand one another? Our words are worth their infinite weight in salt so there is nothing in the world that is more important than language for it is how we truly understand each other.
We use letters to make words, words to make sentences, and sentences to express some sort of information. These letters and words make up different languages that people speak and these languages are the fundamental building blocks to societies and people’s personalities. Language, both verbal and nonverbal, is how we articulate our wants, needs, and emotions. It is how two people have a conversation and how a nation starts a revolution. Humans need languages to unite with one another; this is where human compassion is formed. When people are able to understand one another, they can truly understand their pain and sadness; they can also understand their love and joy. Humans also need language to stand as individuals; this is how personalities are formed; people learn how to talk and form ideas in their native tongue to express themselves and have their voice heard.
I remember when I was about 16, I was going to school in Somerville, Massachusetts and worked in Au Bon Pain’s Harvard Square cafe just one town over in Cambridge. If you didn’t already know, the Cambridge and Somerville areas are home to many people of different origins and languages. From the international students at Harvard University to the immigrant and first-generation American high school students, culture was never lacking. When I was at work in Cambridge, I interacted with patrons from all over the world. People from China, India, France, Italy, and other distant lands would come in with groups of family and friends to explore a new place for fun or in search of a university to embark on the next milestone of life. I even worked with many Nepali and Cape Verdean men and women who brought new languages into the workplace. When I was at school too, I was surrounded by so many different cultures and languages. At any given moment of the day, you could walk down the crowded hallways and hear five or six different dialects before you made it to your next class. Many of the friends I made both in school and at work taught me new perspectives and knowledge through their personalities, cultures, and, most of all, language.
Why is any of this relevant? Aside from the obvious necessity of progress and relationships with others, knowledge of other languages creates new opportunities for people. It can be the defining factor for a job promotion or school application. Multilingualism shows that you have the dedication it takes to do something so important. Unfortunately, students will complain about the tedious language requirements in high school and college. The joy of learning another language is lost forever when it becomes a chore and not a passion. However, this is where the problem starts; people don’t want to learn languages because the neuroplasticity that we have as infants and young children is spent due to the overwhelming stress of school. Students need to start learning languages sooner so that it becomes second nature. This is where wisdom starts. The more we know, the more we can achieve which will lead to changing the world one thing at a time. Wisdom starts with communication and communication comes about through conversations. It all starts with language. With that, we can open the door to an infinite amount of possibilities.
What Language Do You Think In?
By Nicolle Schwartz
Being multilingual isn’t just a good feature to include on one’s resume, it can be life changing. Certainly being multilingual opens a lot of doors when it comes to job opportunities but that’s not all it is good for. Being multilingual makes traveling easier, it’s helpful to be able to ask for and receive directions and even can be a good conversation starter. It can also be useful for your health; in the medical journal Neurology, a study was published in 2013 stating that Alzheimer’s or dementia was delayed an average of 4.5 years for the participants in the study that were bilingual. Being multilingual can also help with creativity and expressing one’s self better because it allows a person to explain a concept in many ways. Most importantly, learning languages can permit us to connect more deeply with one another.
My senior year of high school I participated in an exchange program in which a girl from Spain came to live with me in America for two months, followed by her hosting me in Valladolid, Spain for the same amount of time. After these experiences, my view of languages and thinking had changed drastically. Her name was Silvia and in the emails she sent me before arrival she told me that she spoke fluent English. I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad, on one hand I wasn’t being motivated to speak Spanish, but on the other hand I didn’t have to speak Spanish! The first night she spent in my home I took it upon myself to bombard her with questions I found “urgent”: “So what language do you think in? What language do you dream in? Do you use your bilingualism to eavesdrop on conversations? Will you do my Spanish homework?” Those next two months flew by, we had very few issues communicating and getting along. Nothing earth shattering happened until my first night in Spain. Sitting with Silvia and her parents in their living room I asked her for a blanket, as she brought it over to me her mom laughed the word “friolenta”. I did not know this word, but surely my Spanish dictionary would. Nothing. Well “frio” means cold and “lenta” means slow I thought to myself. This didn’t make any sense. What does slow have to do with being cold? Were they laughing at me? With me? I was too nervous to ask so I laughed it off with them. The next day Silvia’s mom told me that she was throwing me a welcoming party so that I could meet the rest of their family. I was excited until she asked me what I was was going to “estrenar”. My dictionary came up short again and the only word I could relate it to was “estrella” but Silvia’s mom surly wasn’t asking me what I was going to star, so I told her I didn’t know and we moved on.
How could a language with 1,025,109 words not have a translation for friolenta or estrenar or te quiero which Silvia’s mom said to us every night before bed, and so many other words that stumped me over my two month stay? How many untranslatable words were there in Spanish? How many untranslatable words were there in the other 6,500 languages I didn’t know? How much was I missing out on? These questions weighed on me. In America so many of us limit ourselves to one language and even take pride in it. When we travel to other countries we expect them to know English yet we brag about being multicultural. I quickly became aware that knowing a second language was much bigger than being able to order food at my favorite Mexican restaurant that “knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom” as stated by Roger Bacon.
The world is made up of languages which are directly coupled with cultures. How can we expect to solve the world’s problems and maladies, understand other people, understand other cultures when so much meaning is lost in translation? It’s not enough to simply get the message across, we need to strive for more if we expect change, if we want more meaning out of life, if want to broaden our patience and problem-solving abilities. It wasn’t until I was forced to navigate quickly between two languages, what seemed like two completely different worlds, that I began to realize how ambiguous everything is. It allowed me to be more open to different worldviews and even empathize better. We need to promote multilingualism especially in our children. Raise them to know many languages, many cultures and many words that do not exist outside certain cultures. We need to let go of the fear that our children will get confused between languages and not reach certain milestones because that is the opposite of reality. Language is a gift that we should all cherish and take advantage of. Yo entiendo a mi gente pero no quiero entender solo a mi gente.
Firger, J. (2013, November 6). Bilingualism May Slow Alzheimer’s Progression. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/alzheimers/bilingualism-may-slow-alzheimers-progression-9826.aspx