For the past 3 summers, I have worked at the Miller Brewery back home in Milwaukee, serving beer samples to people on tours of the brewery. One of the greatest benefits of working at the brewery (other than being paid to serve people free beer) is that the brewery tour is a very popular tourist destination for many people visiting the city and many of our guests were from other countries.
One day I met a family from Chile who were visiting the United States, so, as Spanish major, I saw the opportunity to test out my Spanish skills and struck up a conversation with them. They invited me to sit at their table and hang out with them, and after 30 minutes, we were telling jokes, laughing and having a great time all in their own language. This seemingly small experience was one of the most fun moments of my life. Although I was only sitting around a table and having a fun conversation, it was the connection that I created with this group of people while speaking their language that made it so special. It is for that reason that I have continued to study new languages.
Learning a second language opens up a whole new world of possibilities for yourself. The cognitive benefits alone have been shown to stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, improves cognitive function allowing for easier multi-tasking and increased attention, as well as broadens our hold on language, improving the way we use and understand language (even our own). Now I can go all day rattling off reasons why learning a second language can help you mentally, but, in reality, it is not the sole reason why language knowing a second language is incredible.
In my opinion, the coolest part of knowing a second language is the new world of social opportunities that it opens up. You can do something as simple as order food at your favorite Mexican restaurant, or you can have big adventures by traveling and exploring the world. Being bilingual empowers you to break down barriers and allows you to connect with a wider range of people from different cultures. Just like my connection with the group from Chile, these interactions will help you build life-long memories and friends.
If you are interested in learning a second language, there are foreign language classes offered through Winona State. In my opinion, taking even the entry-level class provides you with a wonderful insight into new languages and even cultures. Now, of course these are all great opportunities, but let’s be real– we’re all busy college students and adding 4 credit language courses may not be a feasible option. Memorizing animals for French 101 along with the muscles in your hand for Anatomy and Physiology is not something many of you can fit into your schedule. Luckily, there are many resources and opportunities out there that can you can work into your schedule if you are interested in casually learning a second language.
Duolingo: My favorite language teaching website and app! I’m currently using it to casually pick up on some French. Duolingo provides free language lessons in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese or Italian for anyone of any skill level in a fun, interactive way.
MIT Open Courseware: Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers free online courses throughout a variety of subjects (incredible, huh?!). They offer foreign language courses in a number of different languages from Spanish to Japanese.
BBC Languages: This website offers visitors valuable, free language learning programs and opportunities.