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Step Off That Ladder Every Now and Then
I learned some really important lessons from Ed Williams, my first editor out in the professional working world, but what you’re about to read ranks right at the top.

Speak a Second Lingo
I share all of this because I've seen firsthand how the effort to learn a language can help a journalist on the job. My editors have always been keenly aware of my Spanish skills — which I'm sure helped me land at least one job.

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Home > Generation J > Wish I'd Known Then...

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Lesson No. 7
Speak a Second Lingo

Ed Williams writes:


Three years of high school and two years of college Spanish, and what have I got to show for it? A year of school — and I had forgotten 95 percent of it.

Ed Williams
Ed Williams
I'm working in a part of the country where the Hispanic population is the fastest growing population — and that is having a major effect on public policy.

If I could do it all again, I'd find some forums that would have forced me to use the language. I would have helped with a literacy program for migrant workers. A tutoring program for English-as-a-Second-Language students. I could have made a contribution and learned a lot along the way.

As it were, I let a very marketable skill atrophy.


My thoughts:

A-ha! This is one place where I have actually managed to school Ed on something. I can't believe it.

Sure, my mom's family is from Spain, and I grew up hearing the language around the house. But other than basic phrases, I couldn't speak it at all until I entered high school. It wasn't until then that I even attempted to understand the grammar.

I took three years in high school, landed in a couple of honors classes in college and worked hard to retain my skills. I taught ESL and tutored native Spanish-speakers so that I could practice. After college, I continued speaking Spanish with anyone who would let me.

Thank goodness for my husband because I gotta be honest: I'm not sure I would have been disciplined enough to keep up all that effort had he not come along. Chris lived in Spain for a year — has a real passion for the place — and has studied the language extensively. He's fluent and is one of few child and adolescent psychiatrists in the nation who can actually treat his patients in Spanish.

Because those language skills are important to my husband, they’re important to me. We have taken night courses. We have hired tutors to come to our home to converse with us. We have hired a nanny originally from Peru to work with our children with hopes that they, too, speak Spanish with ease.

I share all of this because I've seen firsthand how the effort to learn a language can help a journalist on the job. My editors have always been keenly aware of my Spanish skills — which I'm sure helped me land at least one job.

If you're wondering why you're studying a second language, please don’t. Take it seriously. And when deciding which language to pursue, don’t be afraid to consider your career in journalism also. Think strategically. Sure, Spanish is one handy language to know. But if you want to live in Chicago, you’d be really smart to speak Polish. In Denver, there’s a large concentration of Russians and Ethopians. The largest concentration of Iranians per capita in the U.S. is in Los Angeles — so Farsi would be smart to learn if you hope to move there. What about Houston, which has a relatively large Nigerian population?

Anytime you have the chance to pick up another language, please do. These are golden opportunities that could propel you to great jobs someday.

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Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

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