Stephen Van Orden
2011 Hall of Fame Nominee
Timpview High School
2011 Finalist from SWCOLT
“Acquiring communicative skills in another language has so many benefits. It strengthens all of my first language reading, writing, and speaking skills. It provides me with access to other people and communities. It unlocks otherwise non-existent economic possibilities. It offers me access to more information that is only available in the other language. It improves my cognitive abilities as I learn to integrate what I am learning with what I already know in seamless real-time communication. It helps me become a better test taker because I have daily practice with consuming and assigning meaning to new, never-before-experienced language. In short, it makes me smarter.
In addition to all of these and many other practical benefits, learning a language should make me a better person. As I am confronted with new ideas, cultural behaviors, and world views; my rough edges should be knocked off and smoothed one-by-one like a stone rolling in a swift-flowing steam. As a result, I should become a better member of my human communities because learning language teaches me how to positively interact wit others.
Our world needs tolerance and not just respect for diversity but true valuing of diversity. Biologists lament the extinction of species through the destruction of the rain forests because studying those extinct species might have led to the cure for cancer or solved some other large human problem. In the same vein, language teachers know that studying other cultures and languages leads to ideas and understandings that can and will solve a variety of human social problems. A species of plant or animal that goes extinct diminishes possibilities of future scientific discoveries. Similarly, when people do not learn languages beyond their native language, they diminish their possibilities for future discovery. Just like the scientist has faith in progress through the scientific method, I believe that as we study other cultures and languages, we will learn to think in new ways that will bring the bright flashes of epiphany that recast our human problems in the light of opportunity.
For me, learning another language is the intense act of expanding and refining my humanity. It is the compact core at the heart of all learning. It is feeling, experiencing, and thinking. Most of all, it’s fun, and it’s for everybody.”