Throughout my life, I've had an interest in other languages. It's something I was surrounded with from birth, really; both of my parents had served foreign missions, and as I grew up they still used the language skills they had acquired during their service. Mom worked as a translator, and both she and Dad would switch into their alternate tongues when they wanted to talk about secret things (like birthday presents) but not have to shoo my siblings and me into another room or wait for a private moment.
Then over time, one brother would study French, and another served a mission in Mexico. That brother would go on to have a family of his own that spoke Spanish. Other relatives also picked up extra languages as they served missions or studied hard enough.
It took me two decades to realize it, but this is also what I was born to do.
Interest became passion after I was trained in Spanish as a missionary. I had never experienced anything as liberating as knowing another language; if I couldn't communicate with someone in English, I wasn't out of options! I have fond memories of times on my mission when my companion and I would be out talking to people on the streets, and some would try to get out of it by saying something like "No Inglés." Then came the priceless looks on their faces when we started rattling away in Spanish! But that wasn't even the best part. No--the fact that we could communicate with nearly anyone we met in Texas is what I'll remember years down the road. It was freedom. It was understanding. It became the first building block in many precious relationships.
And that got me thinking: what would the world be like if we could all just understand each other? If you look at the cause of any conflict between people or nations, you may find things like greed and apathy, but whatever it may be, most of the time there's also gonna be a miscommunication in the mix. There was a misunderstanding of some sort somewhere down the line, and now there's trouble. Sadly, this problem runs deeper than the language barrier. Even when a dialect is shared, people will choose not to listen, or perhaps listen but take something completely the wrong way. . . . I'm sure each of us could name many specific examples of miscommunication in just our own language.
But still. Take away that initial language barrier, and you've got a start on the road to understanding. When you learn a language, you're putting forth the effort to communicate with someone you wouldn't have before. And that has to mean something to them. Communication is huge!
At least, that's the way I look at it.
So I've chosen to devote my life--or at least the career aspect of my life--to language. It's the only real dream I've ever had for a career. Sure, I've got plenty of other kinds of dreams. I want to get a book published, play in the Orchestra at Temple Square . . . things like that. But I don't see any of those as career goals.
I'm thinking that may be a reason why I was such a bum in high school: I just had no direction, no dream. Back then, I hadn't ever considered a language career, and nothing else appealed to me. Music was fun, and I enjoyed it. Same with writing, Lego, being social, traveling, and even public speaking. But I didn't want to rely on any of those to feed a family someday. I felt very intimidated at the prospect of choosing a major and a career, because there was nothing to which I truly wanted to be committed. And so I just didn't put much effort into school. This annoyed at least a few of the people I was close to, who saw more potential in me and knew I was selling myself short. But I didn't know where I wanted my education to take me, so I didn't go anywhere with it right then.
This semester I began studying Arabic. And to be honest, it's the first time I've ever really wanted an "A," in anything. I've been very happy to get good grades when they happened, but I've also always been content merely to pass. Other than for college applications and scholarships, I never understood why anyone would work so hard for a perfect grade point average. Many of my friends did work for that, and I look up to and admire them a lot for it. It's taking them to wonderful places. They've got vision, or at least determination, and I respect that. I just never understood it until now (and even still I'm only beginning to understand).
I'll be the happiest man on earth for being able to support a family. But there's more to this dream--things I don't really need after I've achieved that first and most important goal, yet which I still think would be choice experiences and which motivate me to not merely pass, but to excel. For instance, it would be cool if someday I was good enough to be recognized to some extraordinary degree in my field. It might even be interesting to be the guy the President calls when the current terrorist organization has sent him another bedtime story and he needs someone to read it to him. Case in point, I see myself actually going places with this, and this is the first time that's ever happened.
In class this week we finished learning the Arabic alphabet and started on our numbers (I've learned the first ten now!). Just like it was with English back in kindergarten, this is a big step, and I feel like I've really accomplished something. Tonight we began our first points of basic grammar, and my vocabulary is small but steadily increasing. In the coming weeks, when I've learned more fundamental principles and vocabulary, I'm going to attempt a boost in my learning by reading the scriptures in Arabic (I've already got the Bible and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith waiting for me on my nightstand). This is the grand adventure I've been waiting for. I've got what I need to get started, and I'm ready to go.