By Mansi TannaThe case for becoming a polyglot
I’m sure everyone hearing or seeing this word is automatically singing it in the tune of the ever-so-famous song “Despacito,” originally by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and then sung and released by Justin Bieber as a remix. This song was overplayed in every single bar and club. Even the shower was not spared. Spanish speakers obviously knew every lyric of the song, but those who weren’t familiar with the language made up their own words and just patiently waited for the chorus so they could finally yell “despacito.” The release of Bieber’s remix on this song kickstarted a new and fresh genre of music that millennials (like me) started to groove to. That’s when Spanish music started booming in my universe.
What is it about Spanish music? It really gets your waist moving, the beat is always so buoyant, and now it has garnered global fame. Yet, for me, it’s a relatively new experience. About three years ago, all I knew of Spanish music was “Ay Macarena,” a song all 10-year-olds danced to at birthday parties, complete with the classic choreography. Who knew the song was actually about a girl named Macarena who cheats on her boyfriend with two friends while he’s being drafted into the army? Not the average 10-year-old, for sure.
But since 2017, 19 songs sung predominantly in Spanish have made it to the Billboard Hot 100, which was about five times more than it was in 2016. Latin music is made for the global ear and contains the major key of any good dance song— it makes us think with our feet; it’s danceable.
English, Hindi, Gujarati and a little bit of Spanish (muy poco) are the languages I can speak. Through my 19 years in this world, growing up in Mumbai, India, I was surrounded by English, Hindi, and Gujarati, and only three years ago was I introduced to Spanish in high school. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and so I chose to take the most basic level of Spanish to study in high school. I was intrigued by Spanish and felt that learning this language would be helpful for me in the future as Spanish is a very widely spoken language. I also participated in a Spanish Exchange Program where I hosted a girl from Spain and I, too, went and lived in her home in Spain. Being in her home taught me a lot about her culture, and one thing that stood out to me was the fact that they only communicate in their native tongue.
English is not my native language, but it is my first language. My parents have always emphasized knowing your mother tongue and native language but having been brought up and taught everything I know in English, it became challenging to communicate in any language but English. After finishing the 10th grade, I made up my mind to go abroad for college, and knowing that my high school was offering the second-most spoken language in the world excited me and made me eager to learn.
About six months into learning Spanish, I remember sitting in my Spanish class and my classmate announcing the release of Justin Bieber’s version of Despacito. I remember my Spanish professor being thrilled and I remember everyone jamming to this song through the rest of the school day. Under the impression that we were Spanish experts already, we even naively tried to translate the whole song. Since then my love for the Spanish language and their music only grew. I started listening to more Spanish music, trying to decipher the lyrics and figuring out through the accent of the artist which Latin country the artist was from (because the Spanish accent differs across Spanish-speaking countries). It felt like destiny that the year I chose to learn Spanish was the year Spanish music exploded in India. I honestly even considered studying in Spain because I was just in love with the language, the culture, the music, and their festivals. But, of course I am here at Syracuse now, taking Spanish 102 to indulge my fondness for the language. At the end of these four years—finger crossed— I hope I become fluent.
I’m happy to conclude from memory that immersing oneself in a new culture is much more rewarding than just being able to sing along to a chart topper. During a spring break in Los Angeles, my friends and I were in an Uber speaking in Hindi (talking in your native language when you are in a foreign country just gives you a different thrill!), when our Afghan Uber driver responded to our conversation in Hindi. Taken aback, we asked how he knew Hindi. He simply replied “through watching Bollywood movies and listening to Hindi music.”
I was stunned by the fact that a person can understand an entire language and speak it by just watching movies and listening to the music in that particular language. Which is why I’d like to recommend that everyone immerse themselves in learning about a new culture. Listen to their music and watch their movies—you will really find yourself appreciating the vast diversity in this world and might even end up learning and understanding their language to a larger extent than just the latest jam on Spotify.
Mansi Tanna is a freshman studying psychology at Syracuse University.