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There are many things to love about learning new languages. But this is undoubtedly the best one.
My absolute favorite thing about language learning happens to be the exact same thing I love about travel in general: it forces you to see the world from another perspective.
You might take this for granted. You might be thinking, “Malachi, I’m a very well-rounded and worldly person with a great appreciation for foreign cultures and a curiosity for that which is different.” Well, good. That’s a good start. If you could spread that curiosity and humility to just five other people within your lifetime, you’d be contributing significantly to a snowball effect of making the world a better place. When you see the world through someone else’s eyes, you begin to understand them. When you understand them, you empathize with them. When you empathize with them, you don’t see them as the enemy – you welcome them as a friend, or neighbor, or family member. And we need a little more of that.
But – if you haven’t learned a foreign language, I doubt you’re as well-rounded and worldly as you might think.
It hasn’t been proven yet that the way we speak actually affects the way we see and think about the world. This is called linguistic relativity, by the way, popularized by what’s called Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and it’s fascinating. But it hasn’t been proven. However, what is proven is that we use language to group our experience into chunks. This is how we process our experience of the world – by grouping things. Language is just a verbalization of the way we chunk the world together, and that varies from place to place. So Russian, for example, has two words for the color blue – голубой (“ga-loo-BOY“) is lightish blue, and синий (“SEE-neey“) is darkish blue – meaning they’ve divided the world slightly differently than English speakers have. They put a line through blue, where English speakers haven’t.
This doesn’t mean we don’t literally SEE colors differently than Russians. But if you learned Russian, you would start to consider the color blue in a new context. Where before you just saw “blue” with different shades, now you would see two colors. It forces you to look at “blue” in a new light.
Extend that to cultural values, life philosophies and even jokes, and language can crack your world right open, revealing infinite layers beneath what you thought was there.
It’s not enough to travel and eat new foods and see new landscapes. When you learn a new language, the world changes for you. And with that, you can change the world.
What about you? How has language learning changed your perspective?
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