Learning An Alien Language

There is a Czech proverb, “Kolik jazyku znáš, tolikrát jsi clovekem.” (You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once! )… Recently, I have come across an online community– My Happy Planet. There is this lady I came across, Karen Ong, a 26 year old female from Manila Philippines, who is the owner of that website. She can speak six different languages and has travelled to over 80 countries in six continents. I was so inspired by this lady that I could feel the urge inside me to discover people and learn their language. Learning a language is to bridge the cultural gap among people and discovering the most wonderful bunch of people that exist around the world. The study of foreign languages and literature provides the most valuable experience of knowing different people and experiencing their culture.

Linguists estimate that there are about 5,000-6,000 different languages spoken in the world today. There are about 200 languages that have a million or more native speakers. Every language can create new words to describe new situations by different words. Numerous migrations of people over the last several centuries have resulted in most large nations now having many different languages. There are at least 165 languages spoken in the United States today. There are so many different languages in this world that we have lost its count. Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Chinese Mandarin, English, Haitian, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Khmer, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telegu, Lao, Russian, French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Spanish, Tagalong, Vietnamese, Norwegian, Nepali and the list just goes on. English is far more worldwide in its distribution than all other spoken languages. English is considered to be the most common global language. Much to the benefit of us Indians as we know the language well enough due to the English colonialism, it makes global communication much easier for us. Do we ever sit back and ponder on the fact that there are 29 languages spoken by more than a million native speakers across India and we are restricted to our mother tongue and two or three other commonly spoken languages of the metros!

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I have been teaching English online to the members of My Happy Planet. There are small African islands where people wish to learn English as the language has immense global importance. I have been teaching English to a people from Reunion Island and it is a fun experience. In fact, there are plenty of language exchange sites today and embassy’s of different nations in almost every city who offer courses on foreign languages. It’s just great to learn about the geographic location, the people, their standard of living and every other minor detail of these foreign lands. I started with learning Japanese and now I can understand the language partially. I am still in the process of learning the Japanese basics.

Being multilingual opens countless and distinguished avenues. Our languages are a great asset to us. The world is getting smaller everyday and people are bridging cultural gaps. Learning foreign languages means expanding career opportunities, education opportunities, bridging cultural differences, enhancing global exchange of ideas and enjoying the fact of knowing a completely alien language, land and their culture. Language interpreters, tourism business, translator, travel guides are the face of the present global scenario of job options available to multilingual citizens. When people are well conversant with the foreign language, culture and political arena, there are also opportunities to become foreign ambassadors. Business is going global and being multilingual helps in forging better ties for trade purposes in the international business world.

Speaking and writing a foreign language correctly by attending a formal language learning institute is extrinsic to the educational goals and opens up millions of new opportunities. This not only increases career options but also unites the cultural difference and acts as peace building mechanism between the various nations.

“Learning to speak another’s language means taking one’s place in the human community. It means reaching out to others across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Language is far more than a system to be explained. It is our most important link to the world around us. Language is culture in motion. It is people interacting with people.”

– Sandra Savignon Communicative Competence: Theory and Classroom Practice, Reading, MA Addison Wesley, 1983, p. 187.

Upasana Mallick