I came to the United States from Africa in December of 2016. I’ve noticed how hard it was for me to travel alone, but luckily I knew how to speak English. At first, I didn’t want to learn the language, but I later changed my mind.
I learned English because you never know where life is going to take you. I had taken English conversation summer classes for two months before coming to the United States. I had a tutor who used to live in the U.S. and who would work with me every morning. I didn’t think I could learn English in two months, but I didn’t want to stay in my country, so I worked hard and practiced even without my tutor.
In December, I got on an airplane for the first time, and when I landed in Washington, D.C., I didn’t know where to go. I was alone without someone who could help me, and I wanted to go back to Africa because I didn’t know where to go. But I asked someone who worked there because I knew how to speak English, and he helped me. I asked myself after, if I didn’t know how to speak English, would I have missed the plane? I’m sure I would have missed it.
I’m sure everywhere in the world, in each country, there are English summer classes available for students who don’t speak English. I think students should learn other languages, because I’ve noticed how helpful learning English has been for me, and I think it could be helpful for others too.
It was hard to learn English as my third language when I was 17 years old. That’s why I think students should start to learn other languages when they are young. In addition, in the United States, students should start to learn how to speak different languages. I’ve noticed that most people in the United States speak only English, and many think everyone should speak English. As a result, this country can be isolationist.
I think children should start to learn other languages when they are young, like middle school or younger, because it’s not easy to learn another language later in life. I think that most people in the United States could understand the world better if they spoke other languages.
For example, a student I went to high school with in Maine asked me, “Do you guys wear clothes in Africa?” This made me so mad. Imagine if you were asked the same question! Most people in the United States think Africa is a jungle because the only thing they know about the continent is that there are lions and zebra. If people in the United States spoke more languages, they could better understand other cultures too.
For me, languages are the key. If I go to Canada, I can speak French, and I can explain myself. It would be easy for me to go to college in France, because I understand the language. I want future generations to learn languages so they can explain themselves, work, and study wherever they are or want to go.
Herve Irakoze is a junior at Deering High School in Portland. He produced this piece as part of the 2017 Raise Your Voice Workshop sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.