December 1st 2017
It is estimated that there are over 190 distinct languages in existence, it is near impossible to say exactly how many languages are actually spoken in the world. Language is the basis and one of the main pillars of a culture, for every language there is a correspondingly unique culture hence if anyone wishes to truly understand a culture a great place to start is with the language.
We are currently living in a world littered with hate, war and struggle, day by day people fight against one another for different reasons but I am of the opinion that an unfortunate but dominant cause of all this strife is misunderstanding. Our lack of understanding of others’ cultures results in misconceptions which ultimately lead to attitudes of selfishness and self-preservation with a clear disregard of the wellbeing and quality of life of others. I will go as far as to say, for peace’s sake we should all strive to learn and understand cultures other than our own especially the ones we assume we already understand.
There are places in the world where here are at least 15 languages spoken , some variations and versions of one another and others complete standalones and for each language there exists variations in culture and in some cases completely different cultures, yet people have found a way to peacefully coexist .In a lot of instances you will find people who can speak multiple languages and therefore relate to multiple cultures , I myself am an example of such a situation I was born to parents raised in two different cultures speaking different languages. As a result of my parentage and upbringing, I learnt from a young age that every single language and culture deserves a healthy level of respect.
I will not deny the fact that there are difficulties that may arise when learning a new language or being in the midst of a culture you do not understand or come from. When I was in kindergarten we moved to a city where a language I did not speak was the dominant one and as a result I struggled to communicate with my peers, frustrated I cried to my mother begging not to go to kindergarten but as I began to learn the language and became good friends with those I had struggled to relate to before for the first time I learnt the lesson of perseverance.
I am proud to say my experience with multilingualism and experiences with culture did not end with my childhood and upbringing. I have been incredibly fortunate enough to be able to learn new languages like Mandarin and Russian and not only that but to do so whilst experiencing the cultures and gaining more knowledge on the world around me and the people who live in it. I have learnt a lot, but every day is a new day and as such there is always something new to learn. Many people will tell you about the economic pros of being multilingual which are all true, but it should not be omitted how much of a role learning a new language plays in correcting prejudice and preconceptions about each other’s way of life.
I will be your witness, when I compare who I was and who I am becoming day by day I see so much more respect for others and less bias against what I do not know. My hope is that my story and my sharing can influence many others to the path leading to being more understanding and responsible human beings. In the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”, and we could all gain from a less limited world.
Gugulethu Jemaine Nyathi is a 20-year old Zimbabwean student currently studying towards her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Jiangsu University in China. Gugulethu is an avid reader, enthusiastic writer and multilingualism is one of her passions. Her ultimate goal is to be a change maker and a force for good.
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