Learning a language 'opens an individual's mind'
Special to The Arizona Republic
Nov. 13, 2007

Sally Mesarosh

Parlez-vous francais? Habla espaņol?

Whether it's French or Spanish, Japanese or Portuguese, acquiring a second language is a skill that expands social and business opportunities and breaks down communication barriers.

Today's World Language Awareness Day at Mesa Community College is just the ticket for anyone interested in checking out MCC's foreign language offerings.
Attendees are issued a passport at the door and receive passport stamps as they visit different country booths and pick up a few new foreign words along the way. Twelve languages are represented: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Navajo, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and American Sign Language.

Steve Budge, the World Languages Department chair at MCC, said learning a second language is beneficial in a number of ways.

"Learning a foreign language opens an individual's mind," Budge said. "When you learn another language, you also learn about the culture of the country, making it easier to communicate with those individuals."

For example, learning that the Japanese prefer not to use the word "no" may make or break a business deal. Attention to non-verbal behaviors such as gestures, touch and personal space also is crucial.

Budge said second language skills are extremely helpful for individuals in educational settings, healthcare professions and technical fields. In an increasingly global economy, language skills and cultural etiquette is a plus for many people.

For MCC student Rosemary Vasquez, learning Spanish is the first step to her goal to obtain an international translation certificate.

"I can get by in Spanish, but I'm trying to become fluent," said Vasquez, who has worked as a hairdresser for 26 years. "I've owned my own salon and I want to go to Mexico and teach others how to run a business."

Studies show that foreign language study can help increase problem-solving skills, memory and self-discipline. It may even help the mathematical development of the brain. Knowing multiple words for one object causes the speaker to treat the object as a symbol, making language mathematical.

Budge said he's noticed his students develop other skills as well.

"Many students come to college and their interpersonal skills aren't developed," Budge said. "I've seen shy individuals come out of their shell. Many tell me it helps their ability to speak in public."