What does learning a language mean to you?
For me personally, learning a new language has always been about opening up new worlds, bridging cultural gaps and trying to understand different perspectives. It wasn’t until I watched Ocho Apellidos Vascos that I realized Spanish humour could also be silly and slapstick; it wasn’t until a student of mine read Wordsworth that she realized English could also have delicate poetic beauty.
What I’ve noticed
Whether it’s accessing a Wikipedia entry and realizing that if you switch the language you might get more information as there are more English than Spanish-speaking contributors, or finally noticing that Evita is called ‘Evita’ because of the diminutive -ita suffix that you always hear but are nervous to assign to a friend lest they think you overfamiliar; the wealth of experience that is learnt when someone picks up a new language is astounding.
Language is Changing
That said, it’s important to remember that language is always changing and as a result so are customs. I used to shudder when I heard someone forgetting the third-person -s in the phrase ‘He thinks…’ until I noticed how readily I say ‘there’s’ for both singular AND plural nouns. As native speakers we need to open ourselves up to the same ordeals our students face and pick up a book or watch a telenovela every once in a while.
Never before have we been more connected and never before have we felt more of a need to understand one another on a deeper, international, cultural level but don’t worry - it doesn’t have to be through detailed analysis of Garcia Lorca or careful study of the present perfect continuous, culture is everywhere if you just ask. Just look. Just read.