Learning multiple languages worth the time and effort, increases understanding of other cultures

Written by: 
Antoniette Yee

Multilingual BYU-Hawaii professors learning other languages helps them understand other cultures and their own language better. “[It’s] one of the best long-term investments,” said Yifen Beus, an international cultural studies professor.

“You invest in knowing the culture, you get to use it for intercultural understanding, and you gain a new pair of eyes to see things from the perspectives of other people,” she added.

The biggest challenge of learning a language is not being able to immerse with people who speak it, said Beus. She said, “Without actually living in the place where the language is spoken frustrates you because you do not have the drive to speak it. You don’t just ‘study’ a language–you have to use it to interact with people who speak it.

“Being able to communicate with people who are native speakers is the most fun part in learning a language. They appreciate your effort in learning their language and culture, and it forms a lot of bridges between you and people.”

Beus knows German and French, which she learned while studying to earn her doctorate. “It is a requirement to know four languages in order to get my Ph.D.” She studied German first. She said, “I like challenging classes, so when I heard that German was the hardest among the languages offered for English majors, I decided to study it.” She spent six months as an exchange student in Germany.

Beus said she studied French because of the amount of French contemporary philosophers. She also felt the need to study the language to be able to read original texts. She said, “The most fun part about studying French was I lived in France for a whole semester.”

Having learned both languages and earned her doctorate, Beus set her sights on the hardest language she said she has studied: Arabic. Though difficult, she said it was the most fun to learn. “While teaching here in BYU-Hawaii, I took Arabic at BYU one summer… I only had time to study at the 101 level. I struggled with certain readings because older writings do not have markings for vowels. And not being able to continue in an immersion environment makes it difficult to retain the knowledge.”

Beus said if she were given a chance to be a college student again, she would study more languages. “I would study Hindi and Arabic better because these are the major languages in the world right now. India has a huge population and is the most relevant one. I want to study Arabic more because there is so much misunderstanding about the Arab and Islamic culture. I want to know it better.”

David Beus, Yifen’s husband and an ICS professor who studied French, German, Swahili, Greek, and Russian, explained he studied different languages because of his interest in different places and cultures. “Learning a language is hard. But when you get to the point when you can use the language, all the effort is worth it. It is hard at first but very rewarding,” he said.

Scott Patrick, a special instructor in the English Department, said he studied several languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Japanese, French, Italian, German, and medieval version of modern languages, to be able to read texts in the original version.

He said, “When I was in school there were no laptops. Books were the only resource available. I was interested in reading books from different places and times, so I realized I should study languages for fun and also to prepare my scholarship later.”

Language accents change over time, said Patrick, so he also studied language to learn how the sound change between related languages. One of the hardest languages is Latin, he added, because the grammar is very different.

However, he learned different ways to create sentences in Latin. “In the Latin language, you can put words in any order and it doesn’t matter. Each word has an ending, which tells the listener whether it is a noun, preposition, adverb, and so on. The meaning won’t change at all.”

Patrick said Latin forced him to think about language in a completely different way. “It taught me that order is not important,” he said, “And when I learned that, I was able to make a jump to languages whose order were different from my own.”

According to Patrick, an advantage he gained from learning languages was being able to write English better. He said, “Latin helped me develop flexible thinking about how languages can work in different ways. I understand my own language better and it makes more sense to me now.”

Yifen said students who are studying languages should watch a lot of movies in the language they are studying and pray a lot. “In D&C 88:77-79, we are commanded to study the history and kingdoms of all God’s creations and teach one another. Learning different languages is one of the ways we can fulfill this commandment.”

Date Published: 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017