Why Learning a New Language Abroad Is Making Me a Global Citizen

Katie Mitchell is a student at Colorado State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.

Morocco is a country of many languages, as it is a prime location for the pollination of people from Sub-saharan Africa and Western Europe. As people from all over the world have migrated to and from Morocco, it has made the country a perfect intersection for cultures and languages. Because of this, Moroccan children are raised to know the majority of French, Spanish, Berber, English, Standard Arabic, and Darija (the Moroccan version of Arabic) depending on their region.

Conversations are a mix of all of these languages, with at least two being spoken in each sentence. Because of this, I realized I needed to get a jump on learning at least one of the languages that are commonly used here. American children are raised to have a mediocre handle on the English language, and maybe a basic grasp on a second language, usually Spanish. This does not set American travelers up for success abroad, which means Americans who want to become citizens of the world need to take language skills into their own hands.

When I chose to travel to Morocco for my study abroad experience, I knew absolutely none of the languages spoken in the region. However, I did not let this deter me. While many students on this program study Arabic or French at their home universities, I have no stake in languages as a journalism student.

Vibrant colors are used in Moroccan architecture to bring a pop of life to even the plainest building. Photo by Katie Mitchell.

Why attend an intensive program like ISA Méknes?

For the pure joy of learning, of course. From my home in Colorado I pondered over my class choices– do I attempt Arabic? Maybe try a hand at French? Or dabble in the two levels of Darija that are offered?

My background in romantic languages led me to pick French, and now I am in the midst of completing a full year’s French language courses in three months. While this was a shock to my learning style, I am beginning to regain my language learning skills and feel confident in the amount I will be able to learn in the next few months.

Here are five reasons why I chose to learn a language abroad, even though I didn’t need the credits to graduate:

  • Make travel easier. Travelers around the world are going to have a better time visiting a new region if they have a base knowledge of the language spoken, or a dialect of the language spoken.
  • Break the mold. It is a very Western idea that all people must speak English, and the United States is one of the few countries that does not place high importance on having a bilingual or multilingual population. In order to break the stereotype as the “stupid American,” it is time to brush up on those learning skills to make friends worldwide.
  • Be able to engage with my community. Most conversations in Morocco are spoken in a mix of Darija, French, and Arabic, so if I learn a base level of French, I will be able to communicate on the most basic level with merchants, and show respect to the community, instead of forcing them to speak broken English with me in their own country.
  • Make learning other languages easier. Many languages are similar to French to an extent, such as Dutch and German, or Spanish and Italian. By learning a new language now, it will make future endeavors easier.
  • Take credits that will actually matter down the line. Language courses are often worth more academic credits than normal contact courses. By taking a language, you are not only learning a new skill that will stay with you past graduation, but you are also knocking out credits that would have been spent on classes meant to just fill space in a schedule.

Taking language courses abroad even though my university did not require them of me is one of the most rewarding academic challenges I have adopted. I am able to get myself around Meknes better, show people in Meknes respect for their lives and time, and make new connections I would have been unable to make with only using English.


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