This I Believe: The Power in Language

The Power in Language


During the winter of freshman year, my French class had the opportunity to travel to the charming city of Quebec. We were free to roam around town all we’d like, except we had one rule: we could only speak in French. However, when we were on the spot, simple words such as “please” seemed to slip our minds. Although most people appreciated our attempts to speak French, they would nonetheless laugh, be disenchanted or sometimes even irritated, and would just resort to speaking English.

Just as we decided to give up and attempt to spare our dignity, two very amicable teenage girls standing in front of us in line on top of the snow-capped mountain of the ski-slope whipped their heads around when they heard us talking. With beautiful french accents they emphatically asked us where we were from. We told them where and that we were there in Quebec on a trip with our French class. That information somehow made them filled with even more joy, evident by their beaming smiles, as they walked closer to us and immediately started speaking to us in French, rapidly asking all sorts of questions. My friends and I probably looked like deers in headlights. Our blank stares made it clear that we were oblivious to what they were saying, and the girls just laughed, much like everyone else had.

Except, their laughs were different. They weren’t snickering at our ignorance, but instead delightedly chuckling at the opportunity they had at hand. They told us they wanted to practice their English, and clearly, we needed to practice our French. We hopped out of line, sat down on the icy snowbank, and decided to have a bilingual conversation; they were only going to speak to us in English, and we we’re only going to speak to them in French, respectfully helping each other out along the way.  We talked to each other in depth about what our lives were like. We spoke about things like our hometowns, friends, school and what we did for fun. We were sitting there, in the below freezing snow, for about forty-five minutes just talking to each other, and laughing, just as any other group of teenagers would do. Though I couldn’t tell you their names, and although we did not keep in touch, I’ll never forget the time we shared. It was the most fun we’d had on the whole trip, and getting to know these girls and learn about each other’s lives was an eye-opening experience. Though we learned many similarities about our cultures, learning about everything new and different was so intriguing. Our French skills we’re definitely not as efficient as their English skills, but with both our patience and eagerness, we made the best of it.

The embarrassing language barrier that we had been encountering on our trip up until this moment seemed to fade, almost to nonexistence. Instead, it became a bridge that connected our two cultures. The impact of this seemingly insignificant encounter left me with such a greater appreciation for the ability to have an education in a foreign language. I believe that harboring the knowledge of at least one language other than your primary one, is the key that opens the door to the one of the beautiful wonders of our world that is diversity.

Anyone can travel abroad, or in my case even just five hours across the border, and simply view another culture from the outside. However, until you attempt to actually immerse yourself in the culture, and put in effort to communicate with the people native to the area, you’ll never get the best experience you can truly have. Of course there’s a lot in this world that many people will never have the opportunity to see and appreciate, but exploring other cultures can be a lot easier than it looks. Consider the perspective of the Quebec girls: you could be just fifteen minutes from your home, but when you possess even a basic understanding of another language, you could amazingly be someone else’s foreign experience, and inevitably creating one of your own.


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