How often do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Learning a language forces you to learn about how life is for people around the world. You have to understand their context. If you’ve ever studied a language, found a word that you don’t understand and found no entry in the dictionary – chances are you’ve found one of many untranslatable words. When this happens you have to look at the context in which the word is being used. Grasping a language is one way of understanding a country’s thought processes and culture. The Japanese language is a great example of how language can tell you how important a particular trait is. In this case, politeness and honor are extremely important. How you use grammatical expressions indicates how much you respect hierarchy in the office or in the family home. As an example, in Japanese there are two ways in which you say ‘to eat’. First, taberu is commonly used, however, if you are talking to a customer about eating a cake you would use meshi o agaru. There is no difference in meaning but the latter indicates extreme respect for the person you’re talking to. It’s hard to relate to this concept without studying Japanese as there’s no equivalent in English. These are rewarding concepts to grasp, and I only learned through about them through studying Japanese.
Translations Don’t Always Do Justice
Ever wonder why so many children or people understand English before they’ve started officially learning it at school? American TV. Television and radio are powerful media for spreading a message. Although television is dubbed, there are countries around the world which only broadcast television programmes that have subtitles in their official language and remain in English audio. Entertainment in the target language is not only a useful way of learning, but it also forces people to understand concepts in the target language. I don’t know many people who like ‘dubbing’ so trying to watch something in the target language has become popular. When films, television and books are translated out of their original language it becomes impossible to maintain the essence of the original story. Words aren’t always easily translated, forcing translators to play with sentence length and structure which can often affect the narrative voice. My father is bilingual and once told me about a classic Japanese novel that he read whilst living in Japan. He didn’t trust his ability to read the Japanese so he picked up an English copy. After reading it, he felt disappointed as the read was ‘boring’. He decided to give the Japanese original a try and was surprised to see his enjoyment of the book significantly increase. Enjoying entertainment in its original language can enrich your experience as well as improve your knowledge of colloquial language.
If you’re a keentravelerlearning the language isn’t always a given but will certainly help when you’re abroad. For a start, locals are more forgiving when you try to speak their language instead of shouting your mouth off in your native language. If things go wrong, locals can more easily point you in the right direction. If a local’s aim is to swindle you, they may think twice about it if you can articulate yourself well in their language as you may know more about the country or city than they first assumed.
For those who travel less but want to do so more often, learning a language could be that push to get you exploring unfamiliar lands. You could look at learning a language as working towards a goal of riding on the bullet train in Japan, visiting Machu Pichu or picking olives in Greece.
In terms of work and your career, it’s clear that you can offer more skills if you speak another language but a lot of people think that you can only use the language in these situations if you’re fluent. This isn’t true. It’s important to highlight any languages you have proficiency in. You may be the only one in the office who has any proficiency in Icelandic and that could be your ticket to a meeting in Iceland to help a senior leader show the range of abilities your company possesses. As a German graduate, I joined my corporation as there might have been opportunities to use German, but as there were not open German projects, I was put on a French project first because I knew French too. I got to go to Paris for several meetings which, although challenging, were a great experience and one I wouldn’t have had if I’d kept my language abilities quiet. You never know when it will be handy to speak/read/write any level of any language.
Here’s how to get started:
Find a reason: Chances are you found this post because you’re considering learning a language. What’s going to make you take that first step? This post? Seeing someone else communicate flawlessly in Greek on a bus with a random Greek passenger?Realizingthat you’re just making excuses not to learn a language? Whatever you go for, make sure it’s one that’ll make you stick to it. Stay motivated.
Translators are a no-no: Avoid the temptation to use a translator when you first start learning a language. Get used to seeing the language without English as a context (if you’re an English-native looking at Chinese this is a bit different – you’ll need to find the Roman alphabet equivalent of the phrase.
Get online: Don’t spend vast sums of moneyon lessons straight away: really see if you’re interested by having a trial month of working on the language daily – if you’ve got the persistence to do this, then it’s likely you’ll be able to keep learning the language. Even if you’re not based in the UK, you can use sites like BBC, Internet Polygot or Elanguage School.
The most important advice I can give you is that learning a language is often left sitting on the “Someday” list of goals but it will only leave that list if you take action. What’s stopping you from closing this blog now and starting to learn the basics? Go on…you may be surprised how easy it is…