May 15, 2020

Languages are the key to the heart


Nelson Mandela once famously quoted;

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

His famous words could not have summed up more eloquently the joy and importance of language learning. An emotion so powerful that goes beyond the walls of any classroom and outside the remit of any exam. Whilst many people may learn a language for a qualification, as a requirement for work, or as an aid to help them integrate, the benefits and gains that can be made from learning a language go much further beyond this. For this reason, many choose to take up learning a language for pure enjoyment, to better connect with friends and partners or to broaden their horizons. There is a lot to be said for language learning and its positive effects on relationships and mental health and it is a skill that can be acquired at any age.

It has often been said that within business, one is more likely to make a sale if they communicate with the buyer in their mother tongue as it shows a willingness to understand and appreciate their background, whilst also demonstrating a clearly learnt skill; communication. Outside of business, one is more likely to build stronger relationships with new acquaintances and partners if there is an understanding and empathy towards their diversity through different languages. By learning a language, one does not just gain linguistic competence, but also increases one’s awareness of the world and understanding of different cultures. As a result of this, it leads to a more harmonious atmosphere and an appreciation for all within the world, regardless of their ethnicity, colour, background, race or language.

With this in mind, it is never too late to start learning about a new culture and language and is something that can be stared in the early years of childhood right through to the ages of retirement and beyond. It is important to bear in mind why one might be choosing to learn a language and what benefits there are to be gained from it, in addition to language acquisition, as stated above. Below are a few tips and things to be wary of when starting your language learning journey:

  • Language acquisition requires time – learning a language is the same as learning any skill and it will not happen overnight. It is very hard to notice your progress in languages day to day but you will notice a difference after a period. The key here is patience and consistency!
  • Language acquisition requires practice – as with any other skill such as sport or playing an instrument; you have train and practice regularly. Little practice will only get you so far before you hit a barrier. The best way to practice is completing small chunks little and often.
  • Don’t judge ‘fluency’ against others – the word ‘fluency’ is a very subjective word as it means different things to different people. To some the idea of ‘fluency’ is knowing every single word in a language, almost a mere impossibility as one almost certainly does not know every word in their own mother tongue. To others, ‘fluency’ is being able to cope in everyday situations and communicate in that language without needing to further explain. Whatever your idea of ‘fluency’ is, it is important to remember your own goals and not to compare with others.
  • It’s not just about the language – language learning goes way beyond words and sounds. It digs deep into people’s way of life and thinking and that is just as important as language acquisition. Understanding someone’s background or culture then in turn may lead on to why certain things are said in a certain way within a language. Not understanding or appreciating this can lead to common misconceptions.
  • Language learning should be fun – yes, it may be a necessity that you learn a certain language, but you should aim to see beyond this and what other benefits it can carry; listening skills, communication skills and global awareness to name just a few. Always keep your goal in mind and enjoy the journey there, asking questions along the way.

With all of these tips in mind, why not start your language learning today? Begin the road to communicating with someone in a way that may touch them more than you think and as gateway to reaching their heart as well as their head. Charlemagne once quoted, ’to have another language is to possess a second soul.’ How many souls can you end up with?