Learning languages: the first step to fighting apathy

Sabrina Suen, Opinion Editor

The most spoken language in the world is mandarin Chinese. Most rational people probably wouldn’t find this too surprising given China’s insane population count. But if I were to ask an average American what language came next on the list, he or she would most likely unequivocally and confidently answer English. I know I would. But the answer? What is the second most spoken language in the world? Not English.
The second most spoken language in the world is Spanish.
When English speakers travel to other parts of the world, they have the luxury of knowing that no matter where they are, the country has probably gone out of its way to accommodate them. From airport signs and street names to travel pamphlets, everything has an English version. In many countries, knowing English is associated with being educated. Children learn English as a core subject like math and science.
Now, of course I know that there is a reason for this. The west, particularly the English speaking U.S., holds an indisputable economic dominance. People want American dollars to flow in their economies so they encourage American companies to expand and American tourists to visit by tailoring to their language.
But as Americans slowly become increasingly self-aware of their responsibility to contribute to the international community rather than monopolize it, perhaps we should be working to make our country more linguistically diverse. Sure, students are required to take two years of a foreign language to graduate but having the Spanish proficiency of a two year old simply isn’t going to cut it.
Language is the foundation of culture and tradition. But it’s also the building block for communication and understanding. If we want to fight the growing fear of foreigners and immigrants stemming from the rise of ISIS and the fear mongering of the political right-wing, the first step is to establish a mutual understanding.
Students should not only be encouraged to learn foreign languages, but they should be given opportunities to travel and utilize their language skills. People have to be exposed to cultures before they can begin to appreciate them.
Learning the language of a culture is like extending an olive branch, opening up yourself to be changed and molded. It shows a willingness to try and see different people as equals rather than pesky, uneducated foreigners who can’t speak English. Learning different languages can be the first step in fighting apathy.