Your Story: How Did Learning a Foreign Language Help You?

We want to hear how learning another language helped you! If you have a story to tell, send us a note and share it with us, so we can feature it in our next newsletter. 

Showing 14 reactions

  • Kannan Vasudevan
    commented 2015-11-15 16:02:45 -0500
    I studied German in college and learned French while living in France. I spent several years as a German and French teacher at the middle and high school level. I now currently work as a freelance classical singer, for which I use my language skills in both of these languages, and I work part-time as a German & French translator. I have made and continue to make my livelihood using my foreign language abilities. I’m grateful for the teachers who taught me and for the opportunities I’ve been given in various fields. My parents themselves were immigrants, and my mother had to learn English when she arrived to the states many years ago. But my parents also spoke Tamil at home, so I grew up hearing this at home and learning to understand the language. These days, whenever I come across immigrants or those learning a foreign language, I strive to be as encouraging and understanding as possible, knowing the challenges and the benefits of learning a new language.
  • Peter Brandt
    commented 2015-11-04 15:04:16 -0500
    When I visited Morocco , French helped me get around. Visiting Germany and my German ability really helped out for my wife and son.
  • Peter Brandt
    commented 2015-11-04 15:02:28 -0500
    just to our north(of NY) is French….Quebec. It’s official language is French Canadian (an 18C French that didn’t ever evolve) .They even have a Language Police to make sure you live and work in French; La Regie de la Lange Francais". In business if you didn’t comply they closed your business. So, I living in Montreal, learned French. My patents were German and spoke as such at home…Voila; I speak 3 languages. Now I’m trying a little at Spanish. Considering how many Spanish speaking people are in the USA, learning Spanish at school can only help….but make it fun and don’t jam it down the throat, as French was in Quebec.
  • Jan Hanvik
    commented 2015-11-04 12:25:33 -0500
    When I was growing up in Minneapolis, it was impossible to study foreign languages, as it is in NYC 50 years later. Almost unbelievable! At age 20, I started visiting Mexico. There, I was informally adopted by a Mexican family of 7 children. Not only did I learn Spanish, I became deeply immersed in Latino culture, which led to a full scholarship to NYU’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, 2 Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards to work in El Salvador, Uruguay, and Argentina, the position as Coordinator of Americas Events for a Japanese festivals and special events companies, innumerable trips to most countries of Latin America, and a rich social, political, and cultural inter-American or Pan-American life.
  • Roberto Gautier
    commented 2015-11-04 12:19:24 -0500
    I grew up in a household with Spanish and Italian in Woodside, Queens. As it turns out, I tutor ESL, French, Spanish and Italian. When I met my second wife, I learned Dutch as part of receiving a joint US/Dutch citizenship. Years ago, I received a scholarship to the Johns Hopkins University to teach and be a poet-in-residence. At Hunter College, I taught ESL and English Composition 101 at the SEEK Program. Having a few languages in my coconut, I was able to communicate effectively with a wide range of students. I taught Cantonese women who lost their jobs in Chinatown sweatshops at 9/11 for the Consortium for Worker Education. More recently, I taught a series of job skills workshops in Staten Island that included resume and cover letter writing, interview preparation and job search skills on the internet. A few months ago, I completed another ESL project with the cartoon characters who dress as Mickey Mouse, Spiderman et al. in Times Square. It’s a no-brainer to have basic “foreign” language skills in your human relations tool kit. Years ago, I was a travel writer for the NY Post and a few magazines in Europe. Nearly all of the other travel writers were unable to communicate in Portugal, Italy and Cuba. Communication capabilities definitely can be conflict resolvers and peace builders in our communities.
  • Marilyn McDonald Hendricks
    commented 2015-09-25 08:16:03 -0400
    Prepared me for an international career selling scientific peer-reviewed content to research institutions in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Allowed me to participate in the planning committee of the Cleveland Brazilian Carnaval. Enhanced travel experiences to Brazil, Germany and Spanish-Speaking Latin America. I am not of Latin decent. Studied German in high school, college and graduate school. Was a requirement a long time ago at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. Purpose of learning German, Russian or French was to prepare Mathematics majors to research using original documents.
  • Peter Brandt
    commented 2015-09-24 16:52:13 -0400
    I have now lived in NYC for 33 years 1982-2015. Beforehand I was German born and learned German from my parents speaking German at home (as I got older I read German car magazines to learn to read German…such long words !) At age 4 1/2 my parent immigrated to Montreal Canada in 1952 where I learned English and French. French was compulsory in school (Grades 7-11). In 1982 I immigrated to NYC, but I continue to practice my German & French. Recently I went to the NYC Steuben Parade for the first time and was amazed at quantity and quality of the German influence all around NYC. I just recently bought a DVD to learn Spanish. I have neighbors at my country house, upstate, who had invited my wife, Elsje (Dutch), to Nicaragua for their sons’ wedding and thought some Spanish wouldn’t hurt.
  • Jyothi SriRam
    commented 2015-09-24 15:35:59 -0400

    My name is Jyothi SriRam and I am a member of CB11 in Queens. My heritage is Indian. From the time we were born my family moved a lot. We always spoke a language called Telugu at home.

    We are from the State of Karnataka in south India. We lived

    in the city of Chenai where dad was teaching econimics at the University till I was 5. We learned the Tamil language then. We lived

    in Delhi for 2 years when dad worked for the Ford Foundation. We learned Hindu in Delhi. Moved to Mumbai when dad joined Unilever and English was added on.

    I wish I could still speak all these languages now, but I can understand a lot of what is said.

    The basis for all Indian languages

    is Sanskrit. I would love learn Sanskrit someday. I am so grateful

    To my parents for bringing me in contact with people of so many wonderful cultures, languages and


    This education continued

    when dad joined the UN and we went abroad. We lived in Sri Lanka

    Afganistan, Iraq, Rome, moved to the US and spent 4 months in Syria before dad’s death. When loved in these other countries we picked up enough of the languages to get by. It is amazing to hear all the languages of world spoken in NY city. Learning another language only enriches our lives because we get to know people, their cultures and their religions.

    Ignorance breeds prejudice. Knowledge dispels ignorance and prejudice. We see how much alike we all are when see the humanity of others.

    Thank you and warm regards.

    Jyothi SriRam.
  • Alfonso Washington
    commented 2015-09-24 13:59:10 -0400
    I am proud to say that I am a Bi-lingual English/Spanish adult, African-American male. I learned to speak Spanish partially in Junior High School and partially in the streets of Harlem and the Bronx. My introduction to the Latin language of Spanish was fertilized in Junior High School as I learned the basics of how to contrigate verbs in Spanish. I then took the TEXT BOOK knowledge I learned and incorporated my own style of asking “how to say {certain} words.” Once I learned how to say and properly pronounce the word I was able to contrigate the word MYSELF by following the BASIC INSTRUCTIONS received in school.
  • Joe Rousmaniere
    commented 2015-09-24 13:04:08 -0400
    I first moved to New York in the late 1960’s to attend NYU where I first discovered that I could learn to speak Mandarin Chinese. This study at once opened my mind to the world and led to a career in foreign trade, including 10 years living in China and the Far East. It took me until I was 18 years old to start studying Chinese.

    Believe it or not, anyone can learn Chinese but it sure would be easier and better to start when they are 6 years old!
  • Martin Wallace
    posted about this on Facebook 2015-09-24 12:46:38 -0400
    Your Story: How Did Learning a Foreign Language Helped You?
  • Martin Wallace
    @martianwalrus tweeted link to this page. 2015-09-24 12:46:33 -0400
    Your Story: How Did Learning a Foreign Language Helped You?
  • Martin Wallace
    commented 2015-09-24 12:46:09 -0400
    My story has a long arc. When I was in high school, (actually, starting in 8th grade) I started studying Spanish. I never became fully fluent, but was able to talk with my friend, Isabella, and her family in some broken Spanish. Years went by and, on occasion, I was able to help folks who spoke only Spanish find their way around town or solve small problems.

    My Spanish language study helped me the most, though, when I met my now wife, Michela. She is Italian, and when I met her, I knew that I would be marrying her, so I started studying Italian right then and there. The whole process of learning Italian was made relatively easy for me simply because of the fact that I had spent 5 years when I was in high school learning a language with a similar structure and with many words that are similar as well – so similar that as I learned Italian I started to forget all of the Spanish that I had learned before.

    Now my son, who is 8 years old, is learning three languages. He learns and speaks Italian at home, where we speak it most of the time, and he is learning both English and Spanish at PS 84, which is a school that offers dual language classes in both Spanish and French. Now it’s time for me to go back to learning Spanish again because, otherwise, I won’t be able to keep up with my boy!

    It is sometimes obvious why learning another language is helpful – more employment opportunities, better communication in the neighborhood – and sometimes less obvious, such as in my story. I might never have had the desire to learn Italian, or I might have found it to be far more difficult than it was in any case. Then, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with my wife’s family and visits to Italy might have been more stressful or less interesting and my relationship with my wife’s family less rich. Finally, by speaking Italian, we can consider the possibility of moving to that country someday.

    I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn other languages. It expands how we think, makes new pathways in our brains for processing information and creates new ways for being in the world.
  • Jan Hanvik
    commented 2015-09-24 12:36:05 -0400
    Growing up white and middle-class in Minneapolis was isolating. Luckily, my father spoke French around the house and told us about his trips to India and China during the war. This woke up for me a strong interest in travel and foreign culture, leading to fluency in Spanish and a career rich in travel and cultural exhange among many countries and culture of the Americas, as well as trips to Europe and Asia. A richer life for sure than if I had not been exposed to other languages and cultures than that into which I was born. A lucky man.