German Prof: ‘Learning a foreign language can make you smarter’

¡Hola! Hallo! Bonjour! All three words mean “hello” in Spanish, German and French, respectively. These are the literal and figurative introductions into taking a foreign language, which the Foreign Language Department emphasized in its Trilingual Café on April 10.

“The Trilingual Café is our effort to bring the study and the appreciation of foreign languages and cultures to the student body,” Sarah Butler, associate professor of Spanish, said. “And really just expose them to some taste around the world and to have them use a foreign language in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.”

Butler explained the benefits of studying a foreign language. She said learning a different language is a good brain exercise and it makes a student think outside of what their brains are accustomed to.

“It is important to recognize and learn about other cultures and learn a different way of looking at the world,” Butler said. “Spanish is a very useful language here in Texas because you can go outside in the streets and use it immediately.”

She talked about how influential Spanish is to American culture. The Spanish-speaking community in the United States dates back to the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire, the aftermath of the Mexican-American War and immigration.

“Spanish is very influential if you look at the name of some of the cities in the American Southwest,” Butler said.”The Spanish colonized parts of the United States in their efforts to expand Catholicism and their wealth. Spanish culture has been a part of the United States before the birth of the United States. We have a lot of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries and we have a lot of people who lived here for a generation who are Spanish speakers.”

Yvonne Frank, associate professor of German, also explained how important learning a foreign language is. She said learning a foreign language is a form of cognitive training, meaning that learning a foreign language can make a student smarter and enhance their understanding. Frank also added that those who learn a foreign language have a higher salary.

“Learning German is very important,” Frank said. “It can help push your career further because not that many people outside of Europe know German but it’s a very important language in the industries of science, green technology, history, and automobile manufacturing. According to the Texas German Heritage Society, learning German also increases your paycheck. German seems to be the language that shows the most benefits in the revenue.”

The students wrote their favorite phrases in Spanish, French, German and any other language on the board. In exchange, the students were welcomed to the different cuisines in Spanish, Mexican, German and French cultures.

“My favorite French word is parapluie which means umbrella,” Frank said. “It sounds like a very happy and poetic word. My favorite German word is Augenblick which means the blink of an eye. Many German words are compound, vivid, and literal. My favorite phrase in Spanish is bien fin de semana which is when you wish someone a good weekend. It is a very happy and vibrant phrase.”

Students agreed with Frank’s points.

“I wrote three different words,” Margaret Greenhalgh, English junior, said. “I wrote Nien, which is German for no. Ja which means yes. And halo which means hi. These are not the only German words I know.”

Students also had kaffee, sandwaffeln, polvorones, flan, and pain au chocolat, which are all food from France, Germany and Spain.

“There are many different tasty treats from our different cultures,” Frank said. “The most common question from students is ‘did you make this?’ The answer to that is yes, it is homemade and authentic food.”

This was the most popular part of the event, according to students.

“The food was really good,” Greenhalgh said. “There were so many different tastes.”

Butler explained how to learn Spanish. She said it’s hard, it takes a lot of time to memorize new vocabulary and it takes a lot of practice.

The expectation of the Trilingual Café, according to the Foreign Language Department, is for the students to enjoy themselves. There are also hopes to recruit potential students to take a foreign language.

“We also want students to be exposed to the cultures of the Spanish, French and German-speaking worlds,” Frank said. “In our language courses, we also teach cultures of many different Spanish, French and German-speaking countries.”

Butler agreed with Frank and emphasized branching out of a comfort zone.

“The most important for learning Spanish is or any foreign language or any topic is having a willingness to fail,” Butler said. “And a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone and try something different.”

Butler explained how learning a new language requires a lot of time, practice and effort. She said in order to master a foreign language, a student must get the basics down.

“Learning a foreign language is like learning to play an instrument or a sport,” Butler said. “You have to be bold and you have to speak to people, write, read, listen, and emerge yourself.”

Many students who attended the Trilingual Café have already registered for language and cultural classes. The most popular cultural class includes Intermediate German.

“I am already registered for intermediate German next semester,” Lexi Murphy, English sophomore, said. “I wish to learn all languages. My next project language will be Spanish.”

Some students said their favorite experience at the café was talking with students and faculty in different languages.

“Whether they speak German, Spanish, or French, I think the interaction with many different people was cool,” Greenhalgh said.