Part 5: Coming Together Through Language

By Jonty Yamisha

working together

The goal isn’t to have one unifying language.

The cost of that is far too great. As major languages grow in popularity, they wipe out smaller languages. Smaller nations that live in proximity to larger communities speaking global languages slowly abandon their own for the hope of better opportunities.

That’s why every 14 days, 1 language disappears forever

Losing out on unique cultures, stories, and traditions isn’t worth the “ease” at being able to get around. That mindset teaches us nothing. Instead, there needs to be a better appreciation for languages and their cultures. Culture and language go hand-in-hand.

When you learn a language, you learn the ideas connected to it. For instance, in Spanish, “punte” means a bridge. But it also means taking an extra day off of work when there’s a holiday close to the weekend, so you can have a longer break. And in German, “Kummerspeck” means “grief bacon” or eating when you’re sad. In French, there’s a word for standing on a high place and looking down below thinking about what it would be like to jump…L’appel du vide, the call of the void.

There are so many untranslatable phrases in foreign languages. If you want to learn what they are (and one day use them), you have to learn the language. There’s simply no other way.

Language Provides a True Connection

This connection goes deeper than a handful of unique phrases. Languages function both similarly and differently. Similarity pulls people together; differences can often pull them apart. At least they do until we try to embrace them. It isn’t until we try to understand and appreciate these differences that we gain a deeper connection with other people that we may perceive as outsiders. 

There is a great deal of fear that the free movement of people around the world somehow causes nations to lose their identity. I disagree. I think it’s forcing nations to mature. It’s forcing people to broaden their horizons and learn that there are different cultures, people, ways of thinking and communicating that exist out there. And rather than fighting it, we should embrace it. 

Globalization may cause some people to lose their jobs. But technology and automation kill more jobs than immigration does. In fact, international trade through globalization may be the best solution for creating new jobs. Still, jobs and economies shift throughout time. Rather than trying to cling to old ways, corporations should take it upon themselves to build up low-skilled laborers as assets. Retooling their staff with higher-level skills and arming their workforce with foreign language skills is one easy way to cut through the tension around globalization. 

The Key Is Language

The world could use a bit more communication. The key to making that happen is through language. By learning, understanding, and using a language outside of your own, you break down barriers. You connect through words, pulling you closer to other people. Outsiders no longer stay strange people with bizarre customs. Instead, they become familiar. That familiarity shuts down bigotry. It closes the divide. It breeds awareness.

That awareness is what we need if we want to stop slipping further and further away from one another. You can have pride in your country and still have respect for other cultures, their people, and their languages. Existence isn’t a zero-sum game. You don’t lose part of yourself when you open the doors of your mind to new horizons. Instead, you learn a little bit more about who you are. 

That’s perhaps the best gift that studying a foreign language can provide

Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here?

We all speak different languages. Not just in our native tongues, but in the dialogues that we have with people not familiar with our experiences. Work, school, social groups, political, religion, each one of these groups has its own language, its own rules of conversation. But more and more these conversations are getting shut down. Not by an exchange of ideas, but by the desire to be right.

The world can do with more communication. Many of the arguments happening today occur, not because of differences, but because we’ve grown intolerant of difference. But there is a solution that could fill the device. At the core of fluency rests the need for listening comprehension. That means listening to other people, not waiting for a turn to be “right”. 

A paradox is when two contradictory things seem to be true at the same time. We’ve never had fewer formal resources or efforts to learn languages. Yet, we’ve never had more opportunity or enthusiasm to actually speak them. How can this be?

We are in a state of transition. And we have to make a choice. 

One path opens the door to dialogue, compassion, and cohesion. The other path leads to a dark, confusing place. Where we go is entirely up to us, but the ideal option is clear. As Mark Twain says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I like to think of language-learning as a journey. People travel from ignorance to a place of understanding. Enlightenment if you will. By learning languages, you broaden your horizons and shut down prejudices. We learn to appreciate other people and cultures through acquiring new languages, not only because we learn to understand the language, but also because we finally learn how to listen. 

Everyone can and should learn a new language. 

How many more languages do you need to learn? 

Just one more… 

If you only speak one language, you should learn one more. Do you already speak five?  Great! Learn one more. We should always strive to improve ourselves, our understanding of the world, and our connection to our fellow human beings. With each new language you discover, you get closer to a deeper, more universal understanding of the world. 

Remember: there is no such thing as being “bad at learning languages”. 

This is one of the most dangerous language-learning myths out there. At best, it can demoralize you and cause you to abandon your efforts. At worst, it gives you an excuse that justifies giving up. Anyone and everyone can learn a language. You’ve already learned one. English. What’s stopping you from learning another? 

I’m confident my words are resonating with you right now, and I believe what follows will be of considerable value to you along your language learning journey.