2021 Hall of Fame Nominee

Amy Murray
Spring Valley High School
Las Vegas, NV
2021 Finalist from SWCOLT

Without a doubt, the learning of other languages and about other cultures is more important than ever. One cannot learn a second language in isolation without learning something about the culture in which it is spoken and vice versa. The two go hand-in-hand harmoniously. As a veteran Spanish teacher, I am aware of numerous studies that state learning a language can improve cognitive development, promote academic achievement and possibly offset memory loss in old age. Clearly it can increase vocabulary comprehension and improve grammar in one’s mother tongue. Most importantly, it opens a door to communication with a group of people whose culture is different than our own.

During the past 33 years I have used the Spanish language as a vehicle through which my students have also learned about the people and cultures where Spanish is spoken. Often, it’s the cultural lessons that have piqued their interest and lead to student group travel to Spain, Costa Rica, or Mexico. Others have travelled with their parents or extended family members during vacation breaks returning with personal stories of bargaining in a market or ordering at a local restaurant. Yet other students wait to dive in once they have started university and continue to improve their communication skills while immersed in the country of their choice. For whatever reason these young people choose to leave their homes, they always come home changed. They may realize for the first time that in addition to the obvious, or what we often refer to as “the tip of the iceberg,” another culture’s way of acting and world views are also different than their own. For all the comparisons made between the new culture and the one left at home, in the end, they make the connection that people of most all cultures want the same as they do: a roof over their heads, food and potable water on the table, clean air to breath, and that the next generation lives better and more comfortably than the one before it. And in there lies my hope. As a human race, we appear to be very different. Yet at the core, we need and want the same for ourselves and those closest to us.

I believe that this is what happens when young people study languages and cultures and move outside of their invisible bubbles. They begin to see the world from a different perspective and they change fundamentally at the core. They come to realize that there is much to learn and value from people and cultures that are different; not only those that are from many miles away, but from people and cultures within their own countries, communities, and neighborhoods.

As people different than us continue to become our new neighbors and as technology continues to make it easier to access the rest of the world via television, the internet, and by travel, it is imperative that we develop empathy and truly understand each other as one race, the human race, to work towards a more peaceful world. There is no room for global cultural misunderstandings. The price is too big to pay.