Transparent Language Blog

Your Unique Language Learning Journey Posted by on Mar 8, 2017 in Archived Posts

Life isn’t fair, and neither is language learning.

Itchy Feet: Accent Betrayal

In a lot of life’s pursuits, your cultural background doesn’t matter. Sports, for example – it’s not important where you’re from. All that matters is that you’re faster, stronger, more accurate. While culture of course influences art, it doesn’t necessarily affect your drawing, photography or singing skills. It also has a minimal effect on scientific pursuits – science doesn’t care where you’re from, what food you eat, what accent you have or what color your skin is. Neither does mathematics (the human institutions of science and math, however, may care a lot about those things – but that’s different).

Language learning, on the other hand, is cultural to its core. Unlike athletics, math, science, or visual artistic skills, it’s not something you could theoretically develop in a vacuum. By its very definition, language is cultural. It requires you to literally alter the way you perceive the world in order to wrap your head around it. That’s no mean feat.

And it’s also unfair. Your cultural baggage will influence not only how you speak, but how you learn the language, and perhaps more distressingly, how others communicate in that language to you. Everyone’s experience learning languages is entirely unique, because everyone comes from a unique place with unique world views that are shifted uniquely by the unique language they’ve chosen to learn.

That’s why, starting with the above comic, I began soliciting ideas for Itchy Feet strips from readers. I’m just one person – one white, male, American person, and I can only come from that place when describing the travel and language-learning journey I’m on. I try to be as universal as possible, to reach to that part of language learning that we can all empathize with, but that’s not always possible. It’s important to get multiple perspectives on anything, and language learning is no different. I’m fascinated by stories of people from all across the world, struggling with language learning in ways that is both totally unique to them and also, quite often, as universal as language itself.

Language learning may not be fair, but at least we can document our struggles for the amusement of others.

What’s been your unique struggle with language learning? How does your cultural background affect your pursuits, and what stories do you have to tell that only someone in your shoes would experience?

And as a P.S., if thinking about these things gives you a great idea for an Itchy Feet comic, please drop it off in the Suggestion Box!

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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.

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