Where I Hope My Second Language Skills Will Take Me, and How I Plan on Getting There

Matt Lutze
Participant, Spring 2017 Essay Contest

Where I Hope My Second Language Skills Will Take Me, and How I Plan on Getting There

My language study first began in elementary school, where for a few months I joined my older sister in her private study of German. Eighth grade marked the beginning of my real language study, as I spent a year studying Spanish in my middle school. This was followed by four years of Japanese in high school. At the time, my only motivations were maintaining a competitive grade point average and general interest in foreign languages. Near the end of my high school career, my motivations expanded to the extracurricular.

Well before my transition into college, I had joined several online communities, primarily those with the shared interest of online gaming. While they were largely homophilous, their members were natives of many countries throughout the world, and they were among my first strong connections to extranational cultures. It was not long before I found myself wanting to explore these cultures myself.

The summer after my graduation, I intend to embark on a brief tour of several countries, primarily in Europe, visiting friends of half a decade, some of whose voices I have yet to hear or faces yet to see. While I cannot hope to carry out conversation in anything but English with many of them, I hope at least to greet them in their respective native languages.

Beyond my current friendships, there are 80 million native speakers of French, many of whom are of cultures far disparate than that of the United States. Certainly a great number of these are proficient in English, but I do not feel my learning French introduces a redundancy between myself and such multilinguists. Instead, it expands a primarily unidirectional understanding into a reciprocal one. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

My journey with French began at Gustavus, but my progress therein has been strongly aided through my own efforts outside the classroom—efforts which will become my sole means of learning as my French classes come to an end. A personal daily assignment has been to study a subset of a growing virtual pile of flashcards, as well as to complete several online lessons in French study.

As I become more comfortable with the language, and as I find more time away from the judging ears of a fluent roommate, I will spend more time utilizing what is perhaps the most powerful language learning tool available to me—native speakers. I have engaged in a few chats with foreign strangers, as assigned by my professors, but in the near future, I intend to make a regular activity of French speaking. While practice tools are useful, nothing better simulates speaking French with a native speaker than speaking French with a native speaker.