Friday, June 28, 2013

Communicating Connections: Breaking Down Barriers Through Language

Amani Ahmed, Summer Intern, Global Language Project

My name is Amani Ahmed and I am a summer intern here at Global Language Project. When I was asked to write a post for the GLP blog, I encountered some trouble figuring out a suitable topic. Previous posts on the page were written by GLP staff and guest bloggers who had something unique to contribute—what could I, a college student only at GLP a few weeks, contribute? In thinking about what to write, I realized there were a number of things that interested me about what GLP was dedicated to promoting—education, language learning, global citizenship, successful non-profit work, children’s development; the list goes on.

Scene from Temple in Changsha, China
I decided to write about what initially attracted me to GLP—its mission of teaching and learning languages. My own experience with learning languages has been challenging, but so incredibly rewarding and eye-opening. I just completed my second year of Arabic, but before that, I studied four years of Mandarin in high school. In my junior year of high school, I traveled to both Beijing and Chang’sha, China as part of a student exchange program. Before going, I hosted a Chinese student, Jingjing, and she, in turn, hosted me in China. To this day, we remain very good friends. 
But, the exchange process itself really put my knowledge of and dedication to Mandarin to the test. I realized how difficult it was to actually communicate in a language I had studied for years. However, I soon got the hang of things with Jingjing, and eventually after this full-immersion experience, the connections I made while in China were much more personal because I had spoken to the people I met there in their own language, as opposed to in English—a language that many in China do understand and speak. As Nelson Mandela once said, “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.” Some of my favorite moments while in China were spent bargaining with various vendors and sales people I encountered.  The sense of pleasant surprise at the sight of a non-native speaker speaking familiar words, filled the face of a man selling me a silk scarf. This is a sight I will never forget.  
            The little time I spent in China made the seemingly tedious time spent studying Mandarin in high school well worth it. Hundreds of flashcards, hours spent writing characters over and over again, and countless moments of my Chinese teacher angrily correcting my tones were certainly not fun in the moment. However, the ability to communicate with another group of people and to fully immerse oneself in the life of a people that might seem so different, yet in actuality is quite similar, is one that I hope I can maintain.
            Nowadays, in my new study of Arabic and in attempting to maintain my Mandarin, I always say that I wish I started studying language at an earlier age. Languages take time to learn and the older one gets, the harder it is for one to pick up a new language from scratch. This brings me back to GLP. Not only do I see value in teaching languages to children at an early age in terms of the increased job opportunities it affords them, but also in terms of the connections that languages make between people of different ethnicities and cultures. GLP prepares its students to be citizens of the world—an identity that is so important for individuals to inhabit as the world is becoming more and more globalized. GLP’s proactive approach in building bridges and breaking barriers between the young people of the next generation is one filled with hope and promise. 

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