By: Kailani Clark

Going into a new year of school usually requires the choice of a language. And most students will choose what they think will be an easy or just a fun class. “I just need an A.” But what they don’t realize is that there is more being taught than just a language.

Many people hear the word “language” and immediately think of the language that they speak. Then their mind broadens and remembers there are more tounges than just their language. They may not realize this, but I know for myself that when I thought of “language,” my mind immediately went to English. They expanded to Spanish and French and so on. Languages are not only the way we communicate but also the way we think. It changes a person depending on what their first language is. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s go back to the beginning. When you immediately think of your language first, even if just for a split second, that’s a difference, isn’t it? Our language defines the way we see the world. And people will think “well, of course it is. We think in our language.” And yes, that’s true. But I’m talking about other differences. Ones that are harder to see.

For example, we all know that all languages have different forms of grammar. Words and phrases are formed differently depending on other people’s rules. Imagine the grammar in your language now. Then imagine speaking and thinking backwards. Because to us, that’s how some languages work. Now, imagine having a ton of different words for the color blue. Or red. In Russian, you specify whether it’s dark or light. Why? I don’t know. But that’s how their language works. They are specific. Have you ever met someone who said their favorite color was magenta? Or some other specific color? Turquoise maybe? Maybe english isn’t their first language. (Or they’re just very particular.)

Now, imagine having the same word for three different things. You can only tell what you’re talking about depending on the context of the situation. Less words in your language but a little more confusing if you just walk into a room with no context. Now, every word you speak is either femenine or masculine like in French. You can’t just say “the” for everything. There is a word that comes before everything but they change due to the word’s ‘gender,’ how many of the things there are, are they alive or inanimate, so on. Le chat. The cat. La rue. The street. L’arbre. The tree. Sometimes it isn’t even a word in front of it. And then the context is the same for French too. Le chat. The cat. Les chats. The cats. Pronounced the same. You need context to know if there are more than one. Sometimes words are so similar that you can only tell the difference if you speak French. Otherwise, you might say tree instead of earring by missing the touch of a “t” at the end of a word.

I could go on forever talking about differences like this but I think you get my point. So these are changes in the language itself but how does this change the way we think? Well let’s use some of my examples from above.

Talking in some languages depends on context but getting straight to the point makes conversations shorter. Having a million words for a color can make you more sensitive to shades. And having to think more about the ‘gender’ of words and the slight differences in pronounciation can make you more sensitive to speach, always listening for that slight “t” that turns tomato into pencil.

So you see, languages are more than just how we communicate. They are how we perceive each other. The world. They are how we develop our worldviews, a conception of the world (a world-view). Many people will ask if losing a language is so important and in the language aspect, some will think no, it’s not. There are other languages to speak. But along with that language is the culture and thought process behind the speaker. Their way of life. The millions of different shades of blue they see. And along with all of that goes our understanding of the people who spoke it. So if you are wondering if it is worth learning a second language, just remember. It’s not just the language that they are teaching. It’s a second view on the world. Another way of thinking and living. And just imagine if you have two languages in your head. That combination creates a whole new way for your eyes to perceive the world. Imagine that new world for you to see...


McWhorter, J., 2021. Redirecting. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 February 2021].