After arriving at my gate at the Atlanta airport, I searched for a place to sit in amongst the other fatigued, impatient passengers. There was an open one right next to a slightly broad-boned African woman with braids who seemed about my mother’s age. Only after flopping into the seat did I become aware I might have taken the seat of her son, who stood off in the corner.
I asked, “I’m sorry, did I take his seat?”
And she told me, in what seemed like a practiced phrase, she didn’t speak English and instead spoke French. My eyes lit up; I told her I spoke a little French and attempted to ask her again if I took her son’s seat. During this small moment, I realized that a language can connect people on a level which nothing else can.
Apart from body language, our words are the only way of communicating and establishing relationships. Our words are expressions of our thoughts and ideas. And, furthermore, the ability for complex speech and comprehension of these wonderful words is something only a human being’s mind possesses. Dogs know sit and stay but they cannot say it back. Language opens the world of response and exchange of ideas into a whole different zone.
Not only does a language express ideas of other people, learning a new language gives insight into the culture. For example, aboriginal cultures in Australia have no word for time. In Japanese, there is a word for “gazing vacantly into the distance without really thinking of anything,” known as “Boketto.” The Italian word for “meal” is “pasto” (no correlation there, right?). These words and many more let us peer into that specific culture for a brief moment, enough to become hungry again and want to learn more.
There are so many ways to go about experiencing life, and all cultures do it differently. Learning a language can expand the mind to think about these ways, and at the same time, you can discover mysteries and idiosyncrasies about your own language.
Why do we say “once in a blue moon?” and “I think he must have gone bananas,” and “She’s upstairs putting on her long johns”? Language is a plethora of mysteries. In a lifetime you can’t know it all, but expanding your mind to learning another language can open many answers (and questions) about life.