Transparent Language Blog

Getting a New Perspective on Your Mother Tongue Posted by on Sep 21, 2016 in Archived Posts

Culture shock isn’t just when you leave abroad for a new place – it’s also returning home and seeing familiar things with new eyes. The same is true for language learning! You’ll see your native tongue from a completely different perspective.

Itchy Feet: Go Big

This is my favorite thing about travel: it’s not the culture shock you get on arrival, but rather the one you get when you return home. You suddenly see a familiar world through different eyes. People, places, smells, habits, cultural norms – all of it is suddenly given a grand new context. This is why I think going to space would be the ultimate travel experience. Nothing would make you love all the humans living on this little blue marble more, for all their foibles, differences and variances, than the deep-frozen, unfeeling, homicidal vacuum of outer space. Hurry up, Elon Musk, make my dreams come true!

So yes, traveling gives you a new perspective on home. And the same is true for language learning.

When you learn a foreign language, you have to pull language itself apart like a dissected frog and examine how all the pieces fit together. This happens whether you do it intentionally or not! Even if you forgo all textbooks and structured learning and just dive in the deep end, you’ll still find yourself realizing how language works. For example, you learn that not everything can be directly translated – in French, “thank you very much” is merci bien, or literally, “thanks good.” That may seem simple, but think about it: if you’ve never learned another language, you’d never know that foreign languages aren’t just different words for the same things. Why would you? And it only gets more complex the more you dive in, especially when it comes to expressions, or in Asian languages, tones and particles.

You start realizing that your language is only one of literally infinite ways that humans can communicate something. Numbers, greetings, figures of speech all take on new meaning. You’ll start to question things in your own language – why do we say it that way? Where did that come from? When you learn a mother language, it’s just a part of your body, or like one of your senses. You don’t think twice about your sense of smell. But imagine if you could learn the sense of smell of someone from across the world. You’d suddenly become aware that your own way of navigating the world’s smells is only very limited, don’t you think?

What’s been your experience, coming home or speaking your native language after learning a foreign one? What new perspectives on your mother tongue has language learning given you?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Noel van Vliet:

    It’s funny. When you start to learn your second language you think: “this language is so complicated. It makes no sense at all.”

    Later you realize that your native language doesn’t make sense either. There’s a lot of randomness in any language.

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