Guest Post: Austin Wiggins on “Why Study Languages?”

Me

 

Austin Wiggins is a 22-year-old writer from Southern California. He is a newcomer in nonfiction writing who writes about philosophy and psychology.

Links to connect to Austin: https://writingbyender.wordpress.com/ and Twitter @EndersWritings (https://twitter.com/EndersWritings

 

       In my 22 years, I have had the experience of learning two foreign languages: Turkish and Korean. I didn’t learn these languages because they’re a part of my culture, but instead out of simple curiosity. Through this curiosity, foreign language has exposed me to new ideas and has also changed my perception of the world.

       Language is culture. Through learning a foreign language, you open up the doors to a new culture. Through further study and interaction with that culture you gain a deep understanding of it. For instance, the motives behind the politics of a culture or the individual people. One can become more understanding of and receptive to foreign cultures and can come to view the world through new perspectives.

        I grew up in a diverse environment, but people never mentioned culture and race. My mom is half white and half Puerto Rican and my dad is black, but we grew up in a predominately Hispanic area. It might have been my childhood innocence that kept me from seeing potential tension, but to me it seemed all cultures in my hometown were blending together. In thinking about it now, I do leave the possibility that I was ignorant to what it even meant to have a culture. Either way, it is safe to say that before learning Turkish, I wasn’t as receptive to new cultures as I am today.

       My studies of language and culture came to immediate use when I went to Turkey for a program in Hacettepe University in Ankara. I was immersed in all aspects of Turkish culture — both eastern and western. Turkey felt like any large city, though the customs were different.

       One major difference is that Turkish men are much closer there than here in America. It wasn’t uncommon to see two men with locked arms walking down the street. My teachers taught me about it, but it took a while to adjust to seeing this as common practice. This was because I had a held belief about men not being able to be close, an idea that I think is continually perpetuated in American culture.

       Language-learning and good literature are rather similar. When you read a good book, it absorbs you in beautiful metaphors and imagery. The story takes you on a journey, and along the way you reflect on each character’s motives and even think about what you might do in their situation.

       Learning a language is close to this experience. As you study a foreign language, you learn the motives of the people of another culture. If the cultural difference is too extreme, one is forced to reflect on what one would do in the same situation. This leads to an understanding of both one’s own culture and the culture one is learning, and it provides an opportunity for self-discovery and growth. Embedded in language are cues to the other culture’s prejudices and stereotypes. When the reader recognizes these judgements, they become inclined to reflect on if they hold similar prejudices — leading to the potential for self-discovery.

        Language-learning is much more than a gateway into another culture; it also broadens your perspective. Once you have this worldview perspective, you consider how global events affect much more than yourself or your culture. In doing so, you put yourself in a situation for lasting character change, all made possible through the learning of a foreign language.

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21 Comments

  1. “Language-learning is much more than a gateway into another culture; it also broadens your perspective.” There is a lot of truth in this statement. I’m still in the process of learning a language myself, but even knowing what I know, the world has opened up a lot.

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  2. Ye I think your right. I started to learn Spanish a few years ago and I still think of words and phrases that express the unique Spanish way of looking at things. In Ireland, where I come from, we had our own language which was Irish. People mostly don`t want to speak it because they associate it with the famine which happened around 200 years ago. There`s a connection there between history and language. As a writer I am aware of the impact of language such as how characters express where they are from and how this influences the words that the characters use. It`s part of the variety of life!!

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  3. I couldn’t agree more with what you said. When i first came to an Arab state, it was wierd seeing the openly displaying emotions, like you side, language widens our perspective. It makes us want to know more about a culture. It was a pleasure to read this piece.

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  4. I’m so happy to see all the comments and the likes. Welcome to everybody. And thanks to Austin for his insightful essay. His attitude toward other cultures makes me feel hopeful for the future and is so representative of what we’re trying to do here at Weaver’s Knot–to invite people to look beyond the familiar and to explore the uniqueness of their own point of view and experiences in writing and other arts. Many people float through their days on a familiar cloud of friends, family, and environment, and react strongly to viewpoints that don’t quite fit into their experience. At the same time, we all have unexplored corners, unexamined experiences, that set us apart from even our closest intimates. Writers, on the other hand, tend to explore the corners within their own psyches as well as gazing outward at the world. On this blog we welcome cultural explorers of every stripe. We hope you’ll come back again and again. Those of you who are also writers are invited to join us every Monday for Write with Me! Study Hall, where we post our intentions and cheer each other on. Everyone is welcome here.

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  5. Great post … how do you stand on the question of whether literature translated into another language can ever recapture the power of the original?

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    • That is a great question, one that I’m not quite yet prepared to answer. I think a translated work can do a good job at capturing the original, but if it can capture the power of the original is another point.

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      • Excellent article!
        I am Dutch and we mandatory learn 3 foreign languages. German and English reading, understanding, writing (writing grammar and spelling always room for improvement) is good. French however by lack of practice is just limited to the very, very basics. In my experience there is always something lost in translation. There are always words, expressions that how well translated don’t really have it.

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        • Besides English, I can hold a conversation in French, manage the basics in Spanish, due also to lack of practice. I use to speak both very fluently. I can also handle greetings and some conversation in the language of my ancestors, Romanes.

          One of my close friends is an award-winning translator of Spanish poets and I have assisted her a bit with the poet’s intentions and meter. It is a fascinating process, literary translation. We struggled mightily to achieve a close translation, but I am sure it did not completely carry the flavor of the original. Yet how poor we would be if we did not have the great poets in translation.

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        • You have an interesting language learning experience that I would like to hear more about. I’m glad you liked the article.

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  6. Reblogged this on wheremabelgo and commented:
    Language, learning about other cultures and seeing others and ourselves in a different light.

    Liked by 2 people

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  7. Thanks for re-blogging, wheremabelgo.

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  8. Hi to every body, it’s mmy first go to see of this blog;
    this weblog contains remarkable and actually excellent stuf for visitors.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. My partner and I stumbled over here frm a different web page and thought I might as well check things out.
    I lie what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward tto going over your web page again.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  10. Hi, Aundrea and Darnell. Welcome! I’m glad to meet you and hope you’ll visit us here again. Let us know what you’re up to, as well.

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  11. Foreign languages is/was part of the Dutch education system, English, German and French. From a young age I was submerged in languages you could say. Living in the south-east of the country where the border to Belgium and Germany is nearby. We speak a dialect, Limburgish,here and in everyday live it is widely used. Dutch is more for official situations and for school etc. Dutch television is mostly subtitled, so from a young age you are submerged in the particulars of a language. Reading in a foreign language, understanding what is being said in the media etc. has shown me that in translation certain nuance of a language gets lost. So understanding the original, makes far less dependable on media only in your own language.
    I agree with the writer of this article
    However it is sad that the predominately English speaking countries don’t see the benefits of learning a foreign language. Out of fear or laziness I don’t know!

    Liked by 1 person

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    • The problem in foreign languages is that, in the U.S., there are no national standards for what is taught. That is decided at the local school board level, with some requirements from the state level that can be fairly broadly interpreted. The national government offers only incentives.

      So, in some places, mainly cities and nearby areas, children are offered plenty of language choices from an early age, while in many other districts, there may be little or no instruction foreign languages.

      What I loved about Austin’s experience is that he chose to study two languages that are not commonly taught even at the college level, Turkish and Korean, thus experiencing a bit of cultures that are only minimally visible to most people here.

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  12. If language learning isn’t considered mandatory, most students will opt out. The will, as the environment look upon learning a foreign language as extremely difficult and see no benefit. Benefits are plenty in domestic jobs but als international. If in the US at least one foreign language would be mandatory would a big step. Schools here have a certain amount of playroom to interpretate the national requirements. However these requirements have to be met. Public and denominations school receive the same amount governmental money. (How this happened is a long history). Every effort to make it to possible to learn a foreign language should be welcomed. One point I want to add is don’t limit it to the more ‘exotic’ languages.

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    • While I agree with your general premise, I have to note that Europe has great incentive to teach languages because of the close distances between countries in the EU. In the U.S., that utility and even natural curiosity built through proximity is not an issue, except with Mexico. It is no accident that most early grade schools teaching languages teach or even require Spanish. Most public high schools do require at least two years of a language. All universities that I know of require languages. So it’s a question of in which grade students will take a language here, not whether they will take one at all.

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  13. Love your article, Austin – America is getting be such a thorough mix of backgrounds — yet all most of us know about is America. There is absolutely not one downside to learning new languages — its like candy and nutrition for the brain and psyche, all rolled into one! It’s inspiring how you made up your mind & just did what you wanted to do!

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  14. Even after commenting on your blog, it has me thinking about the inherent goodness of travel. In her latest book, Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem illustrates the benefits of domestic travel. So — as tax season approaches, what if part of our taxes went toward implementing a plan that I think would ensure that everyone has a lot more empathy for each other, both nationally & internationally; every three years, everyone in the world must stay at the home of someone else. They would alternate between staying somewhere several states away and other countries. Better yet if they have neither family nor acquaintances there. Each time a new destination would have to be picked. Just think! No more relying solely on outside sources to form our opinions about our fellow humans! Money on world peace is always well spent!

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