A photo of German language student Ethan holding up his award diploma.

Learning a second language links youth to their heritage

By: Ana Cristina Camacho March, 2024

When Ethan Booker’s mother moved from a German-speaking community to English-speaking Saskatoon, she made up her mind that her kids would still learn to speak her language. Today, Booker believes that this decision changed his life for the better.  

“When I first started learning German, I didn’t really think about the impact that it would have in my life,” Booker says.  

The high school student, received the Saskatchewan German Culture Assistance Fund German Language Award in 2023. This award was created to encourage students to pursue studying the German language, says Gabriele Waidelich-Harrison, executive director, Saskatchewan German Council. “Language is particularly important because we believe that language goes hand-in-hand with culture,” she says. “Learning languages fosters cross-cultural understanding and global thinking — we learn to see beyond ourselves and our own lives. I really believe that learning languages connects us to one another.”  

Studying German since preschool, Booker says that learning to speak the language of his family has brought him a sense of connection to his heritage and his community. “My mom wanted to make sure that I was able to connect with that — part of her family and that part of her life — by getting introduced to the language. For me, the biggest thing is that it has given me a connection to my history. It has also connected me with people who have similar interests as me.”  

Learning a language also led him to other opportunities, such as taking German folk dance for over a decade. “I’ve met so many amazing people at performances who I’ve been able to connect with,” he says. “I can connect with other people in the German community that I have never met before, because I share something in common with them.”  

In his German classes, Booker always feels like he automatically has something in common with all his fellow students. No matter what brought them there, they all share a love for the language, he says. “For some of us, maybe we weren’t born in Germany, and maybe some don’t have any family that lives in Germany, but we can still learn the language. It’s our way of expressing our love for our German culture.”  

Waidelich-Harrison says, every year, the applications to the German Language Award come from a varied group of students with many different stories of how they came to love German. She highlights that learning a second language is something that every kid can benefit from. In fact, research suggests that exposure to more than one language aids brain development in children. “It helps children understand languages better in general, by learning about grammar and structure that can be applied to other things too,” she explains. “Learning languages is good for gaining knowledge, but also for enriching our lives. It opens so many doors.” 

Throughout the years, he has come to realize that he has gained so much knowledge, experience, and connection from his time attending language classes. Booker plans to continue practicing his German as he heads into his post-secondary education. He says that receiving the Award showed him that, “if you keep on pursuing something, eventually the hard work is going to pay off.”  

The German Language Award is a program of the Saskatchewan German Council, which receives Annual Global Funding from Sask Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.