“What good is it? I’ll never use it in my adult life”, my 12–“and a half”–year-old daughter exclaimed while struggling with her math homework. This time-honored phrase–which just about all teenagers spout at least once–is an opportunity to teach not just about a specific topic or piece of information but is also, and perhaps more so, a chance to impart wisdom that a seasoned parent has gained through their own life-trials. And you know how parents just love to “share” their wisdom with their kids who may be balking at the “follow in my footsteps” perspective.

“In my day…”. “When I was your age…”. The mere utterance of these words from a parent’s lips causes an involuntary eye-rolling reaction in any teen. On this occasion, I was able to make at least a little dent in my daughter’s recalcitrance. I started, “well, you never know where your life will lead you” (the eye-roll was almost audible). “I never in a million years thought I would be in the tea business, traveling all over the world and interacting with people from different cultures, speaking different languages.” I wanted to be a rock star! I believe at one point I even uttered the pure genius phrase “Algebra, schmalgebra”. Fearing that I had only a few seconds left to drive my point home, I went straight for the jugular saying, “If I hadn’t learned to speak Chinese when I was younger, you wouldn’t exist!” Eyes stopped mid-roll, and despite a barely-detectable smirk, my point was conceded and she resumed working on her homework. For those who don’t know me, my wife is Chinese.

I for one am firmly convinced that learning as much as one can about everything one can will make him/her a better person, whether or not an actual factoid is used later on. You become more than what you were, more broad-minded and more aware: Things we desperately need these days. Language is one of the best ways to open your eyes and mind. Learning a second (or tenth) language makes your mind grow beyond yourself and your comfort zone. It is a glimpse into another culture, a gateway to new ways of understanding, the first step toward innumerable opportunities. I think it is safe to say that most language teachers feel the same way.

For many years, I’ve had the honor of being asked to and participating in the Culture Day, Language Day, and Career Day programs at local schools. I believe it is my obligation to share with young people what I have been fortunate enough to experience in my days. I think of it as planting seeds that just might one day germinate into more amazing stories. The World Language Fair at Metea Valley High School in Aurora and World Language Day at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois are two of the great programs in which I have the good fortune to be involved. In both programs, I have the chance to meet with scores of students to answer questions, explain my own story, teach, and share tea. I get to cite examples and stories from my own experiences and show how important speaking another language has been for my life and career. I do my best to make my comments both interesting and relevant to their interest. My props are a teapot, mini terra cotta soldier, embroidery, brick of tea, an ominous-looking acupuncture set, my photo book, some Chinese herbs and old scale, calligraphy study book, and sample cups of tea. Most have not been exposed to quality tea, and like many adults, some don’t actually know what tea is. But as we sip tea together, I get to learn about their interests and life goals as well as pique their interest in learning another language, including sign language.

To be continued in tomorrow’s post Value of Language – Part 2

All images provided by The Tea House