Learn the Language, the Rest Will Follow

Howdy all! I return as my slightly charged, post-GISHWHES self. I thought I’d ease into this week with a simple reflection before getting into full swing. These are my last two weeks before my senior year!! I’ve got a lot of things coming up, and I’m very excited about all of it!

It wasn’t until college that I really understood the title for today. I’d taken four years of Spanish with a wonderful woman who stressed conversation over written (of which I am eternally grateful), including an entire year with her where all we did was speak Spanish. I took 3 semesters of Swahili (a language that one of the most influential teachers I had in elementary school took as well) and I’ve been nosing around a couple languages on my own.

It was an anthropology class that drilled home for me the “learn the langauge, the rest will follow” lesson. I’m pretty midwestern. I have southern family, and that’s why I say “ya’ll”. I drink sweet tea like it’s going out of style, I mean, I don’t have to list my “credentials” but I’m trying to paint a picture here. I grew up on a farm in Ohio, the fun things to do there included mushroom hunting, digging for arrowheads and spending days being lazy.

I never really understood how people struggled with learning English because I’m a native speaker. And then something weird happened.

I’ve done a little research on this (just enough to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind) and found that my experiences are pretty common.

It started around the time I was finishing up my last year of formal Spanish education. I remember I was waiting at our local fair, talking about foods and I said the words: You know, I’ve been here all week and I still haven’t gotten any…. and I forgot what the food was called. I believe I called it sugar cloud and then someone figured out I was talking about cotton candy. That same concept has happened to me so many more times than I thought possible-made compoundedly worse with each language I study.

Suddenly, I was only able to find the words I needed if they were in another language. It’s kind of like when you’re learning a new language and you don’t know all the vocabulary, so you will in with English (that’s where the idea of Spanglish comes from) except it was happening to me in reverse!

And then it all made sense (after that anthropology class). Or well, I tried to make it make sense. You see, in a culture is like a locked box, you need a key to get in or you will never understand it fully. That key, is language. And if you master the language, you’ll be able to understand the culture. There is a culture all its own or non-native speakers learning English and although not from their perspective, I learned how to open that jar of panic, of “outside-ness” and peer into the life of someone who is still growing as an individual.

Those memories came to me this morning as I people watched from my landing steps. Diversity is a great gift-if you have the compassion enough to see that it is a blessing.

 

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