It has been a while since I’ve posted on this site, but the time has come for this post. The world events are disturbing to say the least. There have also been enough comments from others that it is time to speak out about the importance of interculturalism and the role that language learning plays in that. I speak as one who knows what it means to bridge cultures, having been married to person from another culture for nearly 43 years and having lived in that culture for nearly five. And yes, I do speak the language.
I do not think that one can really understand another culture unless one speaks the language pretty well– enough to follow conversations, programs on television and to sit down with friends and converse over a meal in the target language. By learning the host country language, one understands what the culture values. Those cultural values are reflected not only in the richness of the vocabulary in those areas deemed important, but also in the way they are described, in what the culture finds funny, and the way in which relationships are described and managed.
It seems that the world, at least in so many places, despite wanting to call itself “global” or “inter-cultural” is moving toward separation and the maintenance of barriers and differences. That the building of a wall to keep out “foreigners” is seen positively by some is quite the change from the world celebrations when the Berlin wall came down. Many universities pride themselves on study abroad programs and in what percentage of the student body has traveled internationally. But when the students abroad traipse around with their fellow travelers (from the same school of course) and glance at the great landmarks of the world while on their daily facetime call to mom, I cannot see how the trip makes any difference whatsoever, other than to pad the pockets of the travel industry.
And even the professionals, who travel overseas for a post-doc or medical shadowing experience, many of the ones I’ve encountered can barely be said to understand/ much less speak the language of the host country. I do not understand why one would uproot one’s family and self to just live in some very basic flat, to use one’s computer to watch television programs from home, and never really explore the host country nor get to know anyone from the host country.
Why is our world becoming so separatist? Of what are we so afraid? That people can base an entire presidential campaign on this kind of fear and be taken seriously is totally baffling. Language breaks down barriers…or it can. It broadens understanding. Do people not want to learn more as opposed to less? What is going on here?