As an American, navigating European cities is not the most difficult thing to do. An English map is always readily available, street signs always have English translations, and almost every European can speak pretty perfect English. Rarely has there been difficulty navigating the cities just because of the language barrier. Throughout my time in Europe, I have been extremely impressed by Europeans’ ability to speak multiple languages (German, Italian, English, and more), and it makes me feel inadequate in my abilities to communicate with individuals across language barriers.
On our last train to Cinque Terre, Kate and I sat in seats across from each other. We were pretty crammed with space, because we had our suitcases in between us, where our legs should go. Other than that, we both had seats beside us, so we thought we had some extra room. However in just a couple minutes, two little Italian girls walked down the aisle of the train car and sat right beside us. We both smiled at them, but I didn’t say anything, because I was sure that these girls did not know English… why would 2 Italian elementary school girls know how to speak English?
However, Kate, being the kind and friendly soul she is, spoke to them. She asked them, “What are your names?” I didn’t think the two girls would respond, but I was wrong. Immediately, each girl answered Kate’s question, and we found out their names were Chloe and Eloise. As we continued talking, in English of course, we found out they were 8 and 6 years old respectively. They lived in Riomaggiore, and their mother was sitting at the front of the train car. As we continued conversing with them, I was blown away at their ability to speak English at such a young age. They were talking with us perfectly, and they were not afraid of talking to American college students either. By the end of the conversation, these two girls were being questioned by over 8 CR members, and they were handling the questions extremely well.
Leaving this conversation, I was humbled by Eloise and Chloe’s confidence and bilingual skills. If only I had learned another language when I was their age. No wonder so many Europeans are so good at speaking English; they begin learning it at such a young age, and it is heavily emphasized. I’m sure that Eloise and Chloe’s brains operate extremely different from mine and most American’s, just because they have the ability to speak two languages. Being bilingual is such an asset, and I wish this was emphasized more in American schools/culture. I believe our nation would be smarter and knowledgeable about the world around us if we emphasized learning another language at a younger age. If I could change one thing about my life thus far, I would have learned another language starting in elementary school (not calling you out, Mom and Dad!).