“Did you write you can do all these things in multiple languages?” said my friend who knows things about things, and who read my website before launch.

I hadn’t. And it made me laugh as this keeps coming up. True: I speak multiple languages (if I count every language I ever took classes in, it’s 22, most too “rusty” now to count). Also true: Every single one of them with an accent including the one(s) I grew up with, and most of them not fluent in a professional capacity. Often I forget that these languages still very much are a resource, an asset, something to have fun with. Like the fish who doesn’t see the water it is swimming in.

Our focus is excessively on what is missing. What is not perfect yet. What is flawed. Like having an accent. Or, at times, being forced to funnel your complex adult thoughts and decades of life experiences through the vocabulary stash of an 8 year old. And communicating and connecting anyway (most of the time).

Instead, we should celebrate. Each language is an additional lease on life. A way to make sense of the world and express what’s in you that is shared with others (I miss German compound nouns, I can’t even tell you). The precision that speaks to who you (plural) (think you (plural)) are (this sentence would be considerably less painful to read in some other languages, sorry not sorry).

I don’t mean overly quoted one-offs like “Schadenfreude” or “Weltschmerz”, but the vastly varying levels of granularity languages have around hierarchy (Japanese), human relationships and specific concepts what it means to be human with other humans (“Ubuntu”), spatial arrangements, the concept of time, distilling ideas, and their own cultural artefacts (possibly involving more distilling, certainly involving food, dance, dress, music. Are we celebrating yet?). How that helps understanding, and how profoundly to-the-core confusing it can be, if the frame is not your frame. OK, make that infuriating. Or was that exhilarating? Both? And how much there is to learn as we truly meet in that space in the middle where there is no one correct answer, as whatever answer you think you have will be in the language you are thinking in.

Taking steps to learn another person’s language is a radical act of love-in-action. It says, “I want my thoughts to travel along the same road as yours, to take refuge in the same sort of shelter your thoughts rest in, to be nourished with what your thoughts feast on”.
Who are you to reject that? What are you waiting for to give it a go? Forget what’s still missing. Attempts are valid. Connections are real.

What do you value about language(s)? How does it shape your relationships?  Which language are you currently learning and how is this enriching your life?


(Photo: Christine Locher)

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