I have to admit, I always thought it was kind of silly when people said things like “to really learn a language you have to understand the culture.” Now that I’m older and wiser, I can whole-heartedly agree with that. The problem lies in what my definition was of the phrase ‘learn a language.’
There is a pretty famous quote in the language learning community. It comes from a man named Charlemagne who knew something about how to learn a language.
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
If you just want to be able to say a few things, or basically communicate in a language, then you don’t really need to understand the culture or the people. If you want to integrate a language into your life, you will undoubtedly discover the people of said language.
To Learn A Language Is To Understand A Culture
The tie between language and culture is fascinating to me. The languages I have learned are so closely tied to their cultures in my opinion. Spanish is warm, fluid, expressive and sometimes vague. It’s a “go with the flow” language. German, on the other hand, is pretty rigid and highly logical. This is the general impression we have of those engineery Germans. It’s great how it all fits together.
This article talks about how language, culture, perception, and thought are all tied. It mentions that Eskimos have a myriad of words for snow which causes them to think about snow differently.
Other examples are things like the Russian word for blue. They have separate words for different shades of blue. Instead of light blue vs blue, they have words that are distinctive like green vs blue. This causes Russians to be able to distinguish between the shades of blue better than English speakers.
To really understand a culture and it’s people, you almost have to learn the language.
Is learning Russian going to make you better able to disinguish between blue colors or if you learn a language of the Esimos are you going to look at snow in an entirely new way? Probably not entirely, but to a certain degree yes. Language affects us and our perception of the world.
What’s The Best Way To Learn A Language?
This is such a common question. This, along with what’s the easiest language to learn, is classic language learning rhetoric. The best way to learn a language, or really how to learn any language, is to just stay motivated. Find something that motivates you. Meet someone, go somewhere, plan a trip. Do something that motivates you to learn a language. Create your ‘need.’
What Do I Have To Learn A Language To Meet Myself?
When you learn a language, at least a language different than your own, it opens up a whole new world of linguistic wonder. One of the benefits of being bilingual is that you better understand your own language, and by extension, your own culture; yourself. This process is fascinating. For those who have gone through it, they know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t quite gotten there, keep learning! One day it all ‘clicks’ and it’s no longer work… it becomes part of you. You own it.
I will sign off with a great quote from the honorable Ludwig Wittgenstein:
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
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