Currently, I am studying for a Québec Literature exam. Like any exam, it friggin sucks. So here’s my reminder to myself (and anyone else out there studying for language exams) of why knowing another language is so flippin’ awesome.
One of the most basic things to know about me, is that I’m Greek (actually, half-greek, but that’s who I identify with). If you’re reading this, chances are you already know that. Anyways, this means that I grew up learning two languages. When I was a baby, my grandmother (γιαγιά [ya-YA] in Greek) used to take care of me while my mom went to school (for her Masters, not a teen mom). In addition to instilling me with some pretty sweet Greek-pride, my γιαγιά would speak to me in Greek. When I was about 5, I got put in Greek School. For a taste:
I hated this with a burning passion, and ended up spending most of my time, especially in later years, passing notes with my friends. BUT – in 2009, I FINALLY got the chance to go to Greece for the first time. While I was there, I cannot tell you how thankful I was that I spoke Greek. People there accepted me as one of them, I could speak to locals, and they were SO HAPPY that I could speak their language. Not to mention, that knowing Greek has been super helpful in learning terminology, particularly in the sciences. For example:
(if you haven’t watched this movie, do it. it is my life).
I also remember inventing my own languages and pretending I knew how to speak French as a child, before I was even in school. I guess this is what prompted my parents to put me into French Immersion, and boy am I glad they did! By the time I left high school I was fluent. Not only is this amazing because of the asset it provides in terms of job opportunities here in Canada, but it has opened my mind and heart to a whole other world.
I really don’t feel that you can completely understand any culture until you speak their language. Translation, either by word of mouth or of literature, is just never as true, never as genuine. When a person can explain to you in their own language what they see, how they feel, their perceptions, this is when you can truly see into their world. People, especially when you’re traveling, have a tendency to get excited when they realize you speak their language. This is an instant connection, a common ground, and a place to start from while you share yourselves and your culture.
Now here’s where I’m gonna nerd-out a little bit too. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in psychology says that the way one perceives the world can be highly influenced by the language we speak (more info – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity, it’s pretty accurate). So, by understanding someone’s language you begin to understand their culture, their way of life and the way they see the world around them. Take French for instance. I had the amazing opportunity to live in France last year. You know that stereotype of the overly-dramatic, overly-romantic French man?…not a stereotype. truth. If you speak French, you’ll know that the language is flowery, and the way that people express themselves tends to be roundabout or over the top by Canadian standards. But this is really the way that these people see the world. They see it as a flowery, complex place full or wonder and ambiguity. True story.
This post has ended up much longer than I had originally planned, so I leave you with this. If you don’t already speak another language – get on it. If you do, relish what you have, appreciate it. It is your ticket into another world, to expanding your horizons and to connecting with people all over the world.