in English, Text

On learning languages

In response to an article on Treehugger, I wrote this:

I’m Belgian, from the Flemish/Dutch-speaking side of things. I thus suffered through obligatory language courses from age ten onwards in French, German and English. After leaving highschool, I studied Slavic languages, learning Russian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian as well as studying Old Slavonic.

To say that I’ve had quite a lot of language teachers, wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Some were lousy, others were the best you could get. When the teacher wasn’t good, I hated the language I needed to study. When the teacher was good, their enthusiasm and love of the language got transmitted. So yes, the method is important, yet the method is also highly personal.

Because you are not only transferring text book knowledge, you are emparting a perspective, a way of life, the significant difference between what one culture considers present, as well as past tense. Why certain concepts in a gender-fluid language arise, yet falter in a gender-strict language. Why one’s inside differs from another’s outside.

It’s this lesson that often gets lost in translation, why it’s easier to translate a manual than a poem. Because people come in a million nuances and zvery nuance has, certainly since the written word, been expressed through language. Because language and especially the ability to construct metaphors and build upon that is essentially what raises humans from the animal world.

Knowing other languages, being familiar with a different history of idioms and proverbs, broadens your horizon. Lets you realize how different you are from one another, yet how connected you are to every single person out there.

Somewhere, people wish that their neighbour’s cow will get ill (thus elevating their own position in society). Somewhere, somebody writes a song and wishes that their neighbour’s cow will too stay healthy. It’s a Bosnian reggae song, a post-Yugoslavic expression of peace. I wouldn’t have learned it if I hadn’t studied the language, yet this little nugget of knowledge brightens my day each time I think about it.

So yes, study a different language, widen your world, for the world is wide, yet every road interlinked. Accept that hand and shake it. Wish them well, so that they might wish you well.