The limits of my language

To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.

Chinese proverb

Why am I so eager for learning foreign languages?
Nowadays almost everyone is learning English at school, which makes it really easy to communicate with people from all over the world, although you might not be able to speak their mother language. And even if someone happens to not speak English, with the help of an online dictionary you would still be able to communicate and make yourself clear. You might not understand every detail, but you would be able to get the gist when trying to read a text.
Well, that’s exactly where the answer lies: I want to reach people directly with what I am saying, I don’t want an online dictionary to determine the diction, I want to be the only one responsible for what I am communicating.

A translation is always subject to the interpretation of the translator and it will never make your point in the exactly the same way like the original, because after all it’s always just a translation. Once your language skills have reached a certain level of fluency, you will notice that language is so much more than just words forming sentences in order to create a meaning, language is complex, flexible and diverse. In every language there are elements that simply cannot be translated appropriately into other languages as for example metaphors, word plays or formulations with cultural references are unique to the original language and would lose their meaning in the process of translation.

Artwork by Maria Hochleitner

Artwork by Maria Helena

There are a lot of formulations and expressions in every language that require profound knowledge about the culture and historical backgrounds in order to fully understand them. Language and culture are closely connected with each other and without the ability to understand a culture on its own terms, it’s nearly impossible to have true access to that culture. In order to step inside the mind of people from other cultures we have to absorb their way of thinking, and learning their language will already take us one big step closer to that. Regarding this it seems like Wittgenstein was right in saying that ‘the limits of our language mean the limits of our world’ and there are really things existing that only those who can understand the language have access to. A word is not just a word, it’s always connected to a certain feeling or memory and even if the meaning theoretically is the same, there is still something that is different. I think people who speak multiple languages will know this phenomenon, that when meeting people that speak the same languages, it often happens that there is some kind of a silent agreement about the main language you are using to communicate and from that point on it’s very hard to change that language again, cause the relationship you built with this person is somehow connected to that certain language.

Talking to someone in his or her native language takes a conversation to a whole new level and besides showing respect for this person’s cultural background, creates a state of intimacy and attachment that no online dictionary can ever imitate. Being competent in other languages can help bridging the gap between cultures and bring people closer together.

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