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Perspective: What's the point in learning languages?

The Canadians — and Kelli the Batgirl, bottom right.
Photo courtesy of Kelli McGee Yugsi
The Canadians — and Kelli the Batgirl, bottom right.

When I was 11 years old, my older sister’s travel softball team hosted a tournament in Rock Island, Illinois, and a team from Canada drove down to play. For some reason, I got to be their Bat girl. I was starstruck. I even got to ride with these teens on their travel coach. I showed them to the grocery store. The girls bought boxes of ice cream and plastic spoons. I learned the Queen anthems “we will rock you” and “we are the champions.” They had me say different words like “house” and “about” and then cackled. I was puzzled and then laughed at their English accent. It had me daydreaming about life in far-away Canada.


Then came the road trips in the family van, which primed me for travel further afield. I minored in French, and studied in Paris. But I was too shy… My racquetball partner was Venezuelan, but I learned salsa instead of Spanish. I recall a couple Thai greetings used on a field trip to Thailand—sa wa dee ka!


But even as I was dazzled by the places, cultures, and languages, I was disappointed I hadn’t connected more deeply.


Then one lucky day, a Peace Corps recruiter waved a flyer at me. That was the ticket.


For two years, I learned Romanian as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova. Later on, I worked with a charity serving the homeless in eastern Ukraine, studying Russian. Now I’m taking on Spanish, to better understand my husband’s family from Ecuador.


Thanks to foreign language skills, I made friends. I could better understand the felt history of the places I went. I shared meals on the overnight trains, and hitchhiked. Language skills have afforded me a deeper understanding of the war in Ukraine. And I recall the words and sentiments of my Ecuadorian mother-in-law when we had her first grandchild and when she faced terminal cancer.


So, do you want to feel more deeply human and build bridges around the globe? Engage with culturally diverse people? Then, learn another language! It might just bend the needle towards peace on Earth.


I’m Kelli McGee Yugsi, and that’s my perspective.


Kelli is originally from Hillsdale, Illinois. She is a stay-at-home mom with children ages 4, 2, and 1, for whom she bakes a lot.