My household has a total of two fluent English speakers: myself and my older sister. My first-generation immigrant mother got by with her basic knowledge of the English language, be it asking directions from passersby or ordering food at a local restaurant. My sister and I helped where we could, translating individual words and teaching verb tenses and grammar rules. Yet, even as fluent English speakers, we were unable to help my mother understand legal or medical documents. The nuances of the English language were so easily lost in translation, and, as a child, there was always vocabulary beyond my scope of knowledge.
I carried this sentiment with me when I entered college. With an organization known as Project SHINE, I volunteered at English as a Second Language classes for adults who were learning the language to improve the quality of their lives. In these classes, I observed as confidence and comfort grew exponentially in the tones of their voices. Similarly, while I am away for the summer, I work with non-English speakers. I help ease the workload by acting as a middleman to translate conversations in which they partake. For me, English is something that is as natural as breathing, and being able to intelligibly converse with someone is an ability I do not think twice about. In this sense, I believe I have already begun the process of touching someone else’s life, from teaching knowledge that I take for granted: the English language. In the future I hope to expand on this.
In my first year, I declared myself as a Spanish and Portuguese joint major. Growing up as a bilingual, I had always been fascinated by the unique nuances of each language. Being able to understand someone else in their native tongue was also incredibly important to me, having spent years observing the frustration of incomprehension in my mother’s expressions. In high school, I had chosen to learn Spanish because it was the most common language that my local communities spoke. Another deciding factor in my decision was that my mother interacted, other than English-speakers, with Spanish-speakers, and I wished to ease the language barrier as well. When I began college, my desire to learn another language led me to registering for classes in Portuguese, the sixth most spoken language in the world. Luckily, learning Portuguese was not an impossible decision; the shared commonalities between Spanish and Portuguese made it simpler to pick up the latter language. By the end of my first year, I was slowly working my way through the list of languages I wished to learn and the people I wished to communicate with.
I hope to impact people’s lives by aiding in overcoming language barriers. For example, there are many cases in which patients at primarily English-speaking hospitals or clinics are unable to understand what nurses and doctors say because they do not share the same first language. In these situations, miscommunication can be dangerous because the patient could be missing or misunderstanding vital information regarding their health. I hope that in the future, whether I become a UN volunteer or PA or something else, I will have the ability and communication skills to aid others in stressful situations. Having come from a family where English was a constant obstacle, I understand the importance and the gratitude attached to speaking in another’s native language.