Bilingualism gives fresh perspective

By Sarah Jennings, reporter

Almost all Baylor students are required to take foreign language classes, but few finish with fluency. However, there are many ways on campus and through Baylor to enhance formal language classes.

The Baylor Modern Languages department provides exchange and study abroad programs in Argentina, China, Egypt, and many more. Other ways to meet foreign language speakers are the Baylor and Beyond LLC, Baylor Spiritual Life’s Cross Cultural Ministries and the Baylor Linguistics Club.

Language learning provides more than the practical benefit of being equipped to converse with more people. Language is inextricably connected to culture. In addition, research such as the 2004 study by psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee suggests bilingualism expands the brain’s normal way of thinking.

“Bilingualism will change you in ways that you can’t really even contemplate, just leading a monolingual life. It changes the way you think; it changes the way you approach life,” said Dr. Paul E. Larson, director of the Baylor in Madrid Summer Study Abroad Program.

Larson said students interested in becoming bilingual should find a semester long study abroad program. He said a five week program is good for getting a taste, and students inevitably learn a lot. Nevertheless, it’s even better if they can get away from their cultural supports in English and go somewhere where they’ll learn new things.

“My recommendation for any Baylor student is to first, go get your beginning language classes here,” Larson said. “Go every day, learn as much as you can. Then, sign up for a study abroad program, and it doesn’t matter what your field is. You have time. Go abroad. Six months, five months. A year is ideal. That’s how you learn to go outside of yourself and be another person.”

In a world rapidly globalizing, having the ability to understand a stranger’s point of view is increasingly necessary, he said.

“With monolinguals, you’re completely locked into one culture and one way of thinking,” Larson said, “The number one thing you pick up from living in another culture is that problems may have more than one solution.”

Issaquah, Wash. senior Courtenay Klauber is a Language and Linguistics major at Baylor. She also suggested study abroad as a tool for becoming bilingual. She said that the best way to learn a language while at school is to learn it from another speaker. A conversation partner provides personalized input on pronunciation as well as explanations of idioms and other colloquial phrases.

“Unless you have tapes, it’s hard to learn pronunciation from a book,” Klauber said, “The problem with learning from a textbook is that then, you sound like a textbook. Very formal and ritualized.”

Klauber said success in learning languages is dependent on several factors: age, motivation, aptitude, transferred knowledge of a previous language learned, and affect– which is the willingness to speak up and make mistakes in public. Klauber is also a member of the Baylor Linguistics Club.

“The [Baylor Linguistics Club] has meetings to build community and get to know other people who love languages,” Klauber said, “It’s not any specific language; we don’t all talk in Spanish. We have lots of different language backgrounds.”