Generally when discussing learning a language, the first things we are told are all about how being bilingual will make us smarter, how much more money we will make with this new ability, or perhaps even how it will keep our brains young.
We focus on meeting language requirements, reading vocab index cards for hours on end, and practicing conversations with any friend that will participate, or maximizing our paycheck on a bonus checklist of skills. But what does all of this study and practice actually mean for you?
Language is what allows us to connect with other human beings—without it, the world would be a very lonely (and confusing!) place. How often do you use words during an average day? Aside from spoken and written language, imagine a world without expressions or any kind of body language. We would exist in a blank slate, wandering around without any way to get in touch with ourselves or other people.
SLE challenges you today to think less about what you can get from language, and to think more about what you can give through language. Even take a minute right now to consider what language gives you.
What are some ways you can begin giving through language right now?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. One of the greatest things language allows us to do is to build relationships, friend or otherwise, that are saturated with empathy. A critical part of empathy is understanding, which relates to language in many ways, whether this is through literal translation, emotional correspondence, or simply hearing someone.
Developing empathy through communication allows us to grow in our cultural understanding of our own backgrounds as well as those of others. Language-learning is inherently an empathy-building experience because it challenges us to expand our tolerance and respect.
One way you can give through language in an empathetic way is by interpreting. Whether as a career or a built-in part of your regular routine, serving as an interpreter allows you to process emotions, words, and culture all together to help everyone involved come to a more inclusive understanding of an exchange.
Volume here is the notion of elevating voices. Can you think of a group of people in your local community who are disenfranchised because of a certain aspect of their identity, and in particular their language? Now that you have your local example in mind, try to imagine how many communities around the globe have people just like that, struggling because no one can speak their language and no one chooses to hear them.
Through language, you can give support by partnering your words with actions. Rather than posting on Facebook about the latest injustices in the news, take a minute to step back and think about your role in the situation of this disenfranchised group. Is there something you could be doing right now to bring them into the conversation?
Utilize your privileges to share the voice of another, but don’t stop there. Give through language by taking all those vocab words and declensions out into the world of translation. Practical ways you could do this include working with refugees in your local area, getting involved in international companies and changing policies that deprive underrepresented cultures their rights, or taking an active part in social movements like SLE that seek to widen the languages American students are exposed to.
To discover something, you see or learn new knowledge or insight. Every day you learn a language is a day of discovery! While you spend all this time unearthing new words and traditions, don’t forget how your own culture ties into this new one you are finding.
In the words of Rita Mae Brown, “Language is the road map of a culture.” Everything is tied together through language— culture and individual experience unite through the words we use to bring them to life. It is important to remember that culture is not universal, despite what our increasingly globalized world seems to want us to believe.
Language has the incredible ability to influence how we think. Learning a new language can affect your own perspective as well as that of others because it broadens your understanding of the world and the people in it. You can give through language by creating instances of discovery very easily… teach others what you now know!
Now let’s get talking, together. Want to do something right now to give through language? Check out our add.a.lingua t-shirts here! When you add.a.language, you add.a.world.