Understanding the Heart of a Language


Aleah Keating

Students at Lincoln-Way West can choose to study French, German, Spanish, or Mandarin. Many people believe that studying a language in high school is a short-term commitment; however, continuing the language can give you many benefits as well as a new view on people and cultures.

Mr. Randy Schumacher, German teacher, worked for American Airlines in Munich, Germany. The international work experience helped him better understand and appreciate the value of diversity, both cultural and linguistic: “Having so many friends and co-workers whose primary language was neither English nor German helped remind me to be patient, understanding, and more compassionate with those trying to speak English. It also taught me the valuable art of circumlocution–figuring out how to say or describe something in different ways when a key word is not understood. That was a valuable life skill I learned while working in Munich, and I teach it to my students today!”

Language also is a collective way people communicate thoughts and expressions. Beyond understanding the linguistics, while learning a language does it help in understanding the culture of the countries who speak it? Mr. Randy Schumacher shares, “Studying the language of a country does help understand the culture. In fact, to be successful in speaking another language one needs to understand that culture’s perspectives and cultural norms. It is not just about memorizing words, which is important, but it is about trying to see the world the way that culture does. A little humility and curiosity goes a long way in helping with this! As you learn how to express a thought in another language, it gives you insights into that culture.”

What are the benefits of language study at the secondary level, and why is it important for students to extend their language to upper level courses? World Language department chair and German instructor, Mrs. Amy Ficarello, says, “There is a demand for multilingual work talent and a high proficiency in a second language that gives you an edge in the job market, as well as showing that you have commitment, rigor, and determination to learn something really well. Learning another language for an extended time (Hopefully your entire life!) gives you the opportunity to earn the Illinois Seal of Biliteracy, which can earn you college credit as well open up doors to scholarships.”

Taking a language class could bring new experiences and understanding. Mrs. Ficarello says, “Culture is the heart of a language, so it is impossible to separate the two. When you learn another language, you learn about cultural products, perspectives, and practices, which makes you more empathetic, understanding, and curious about the world around you. It also makes you realize what makes your own culture unique and how much we can learn from one another.”