Challenging Yourself: ‘It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New’

By Amanda Tonoli

The reason I chose the field that I’m in is because I love to learn. There is nothing in this world that I enjoy more than expanding my intelligence. But I have often found, as many before me, I learn more outside of the classroom.

I like learning people’s stories — that’s learning, right? Discovering something that I didn’t know about someone that I didn’t know.

When I first started going to college, I wanted to take classes from different disciplines. I wanted to learn something completely new. My biggest complaint in high school was that I never really learned anything that I didn’t already know. Most of it was just building on prior knowledge or repetition — I got bored.

To make the most of my education in college, and the most of my money, I decided that instead of taking Spanish for my language, I would take Arabic. Did I have background in it? Absolutely not. Was I deterred? Nope, I was excited.

I started this class with Madeleine Clendenin, an Arabic professor at Youngstown State University. On the first day of class, Clendenin informed the class that Arabic was the third hardest language to learn in the world.

Not fazed by this challenge, I continued with Arabic for an entire year. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had in school. It was so much more than just filling a requirement.

“In today’s global economy, it’s imperative that students graduating from college have a knowledge of at least one foreign language,” Clendenin said.

Clendenin added that learning languages gives students’ advantages for employment, personal enrichment and an insight into culture that gears them for better social interaction.

“Our world is so interconnected, it is more likely that our students will be interacting with other countries socially, military or professionally,” Clendenin said. “The quality of that interaction is dependent on better communication skills in the target language.”

Enhancing your ability to connect and understand other cultures not only connects us, but also makes us more dependent on one another — a surprising boon.

I think as students, our dedication to a subject is enhanced when we can clearly see the real world benefits. Although we gather several essential skills while in school, finding use for these skills gives us personal satisfaction.

“When I hear back from students telling me how what they learned in class were able to use in a real life situation: for example, an ROTC student wrote to tell me how Arabic helped him during his service in Iraq, another student who lived in Morocco for a semester was very much empowered by what she had learned in Arabic class,” Clendenin said.

These applied skills give students a more positive outlook on education — college and general education courses evolve beyond necessary annoyance.

Sure, taking Arabic was one of the most challenging choices that I made while in college, but it was also one of the most rewarding. I reached my goals: I learned something new; I challenged myself.

“Studying Arabic or a language can be challenging at first, but is very rewarding and well worth the time and effort,” Clendenin said. “I encourage everyone, regardless of their age to study a foreign language. … It’s never too late to learn something new.”