Multilingualism and a TCK’s Perspective

To what extent does “language” shape my experience of the world?

“I believe that being bilingual, TCKs often have an advantage and think differently from other people. Being fluent in two languages help in knowledge and academics through helping us to understand from a young age that there are always multiple ways of expressing things, maybe even in a different language. It also teaches us that each way is individual and unique and things expressed in one language cannot always be expressed in another, showing us the subtle beauty of language and to appreciate it. This idea is not learnt at the beginning but as I grew up I found an appreciation for language and being able to fluently speak two different languages that are so unique from the other. “

-At the beginning of the year

 

Language is defined as the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Without language our understanding of the world today would be very different. Language was created in the human race through evolution, to teach younger generations, the knowledge gained by the older generation. This was a turning point in history for human beings, and split the evolutionary pathways of animals and human beings even farther apart.

Multilingualism is the ability to speak more than one language. Although in previous years, it was thought that being multilingual was a disadvantage because of the nationalistic ideologies of the times, in this day and age, there are many different studies providing evidence for the benefits of multilingualism.

Being bilingual, I believe I experience the world in a different way than monolingual individuals. Language ties heavily into culture and I believe that it is very difficult to separate the two when talking about knowledge. Through different languages and the cultures attached to each of those languages, I experience the world in a different way as well as gain new experiences and knowledge of the world around me. Keith Chen’s TED Talk made me think about the way the languages I speak changes my focuses in life, and how I grew up as a person learning these languages. In the two languages that I speak, I learn a different perspective of the world, and my position in it as a human being. Japanese is very traditional and is a poetic language, with many different words with the same meaning but different nuances. It is very easy to simply translate English into language, but in order to have the same message with similar nuances, there needs to be further consideration of the words used within the system. One of the easiest examples is the translation of rain to Japanese. In Japanese, there are many different types of rain as you can see below.

 

(ame) Rain
小雨 (kosame) Small drops of rain
(arashi) Storm
梅雨 (tsuyu) Rain at the end of spring around when the plum petals fall to the ground.
春時雨 (harushigure) Rain in the spring. The unstable rain when the weather changes from sunny to rainy in a matter of seconds.
夕立 (yuudachi) Extremely hard rain that falls at sunset during the summer.
時雨 (shigure) Strong rain that stops suddenly usually during the end of fall to the beginning of winter.

https://asukainfo.com/ame-namae

The table above shows the many different words in Japanese that you could not explain in a single word in English. This shows that in Japanese, you have to be more considerate of the word you decide to use because each word has a slightly different nuance to it. On the other hand, in English there are many different tropes that you can use in writing to compensate for the fact that English words although have connotations, are not as specific as those in Japanese. In English you create nuances through a string of words. Often English books are much longer than Japanese ones for this reason. By being bilingual, we can keep in mind the things we must consider when using both of the languages individually and using them with both of the languages. This changes my understanding of the world because of the fact that I am able to subconsciously consider aspects of both English and Japanese, not for each individual language, but for both at the same time.

 

Another thing is that every language focuses on different aspects of life depending on what is important to their culture. In Japanese, it’s nature, and in English it’s emotion and moods. When we talk in each of these languages, what we compare things to, our metaphors, and our explanations of things rely heavily on these aspects of life we like to focus in on. The more languages you speak, I believe the more aspects of life you consider when talking.  

Often without further consideration, many people believe that learning two languages is more limiting than beneficiary. It takes up time, it’s more effort and work, it may confuse you to know so many languages, etc. According to the research done by Panos Athanasopoulos and additional research done by Gaia Vince,  we can tell that the human mind has developed over the time to adapt to learn more than language and pick up on auditory and visual cues when trying to learn a new language. Not only this, we have found out that  “Multilingualism has been shown to have many social, psychological and lifestyle advantages … including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia” (Vince, 2016). I feel as if these benefits, although taken for granted among the multilingual community, often manage to bring success to those who can speak more than one language. Speaking more than one language manages to connect us to multiple different cultures without a language barrier or anything lost in translation. We are able to connect with multiple different cultures when traveling, and learn more about the world through new perspectives that you may not learn if you travel when speaking only one language. On the other hand, you could state that you can see the world through a new perspective by going to somewhere you haven’t been before. I believe that this is not true as, although you are looking at new scenery, you may not be looking through a new perspective of the world. The language barrier set between the locals and the tourists, create a glass box around the locals, creating more of a museum or zoo than a place where people live and work.

 

Finally, I often look at my own ability to speak more than one language and consider what the implications are of being able to communicate in more than one way. Often times I notice that when I am trying to translate from two different languages, direct translations are easy, and are very much like opening a dictionary and taking two words with the same definition. The problem comes when you try to use idioms and phrases, or words that only make sense in the context through the connotations connected to the word. I often have trouble when trying to write up essays in Japanese since I write more in English. There will be a certain idiom or word that I want to use in my sentence and I can fit it into the Japanese sentence, even though the phrase or word itself is in English. It becomes a problem when I look up direct translations, or ask my peers, teachers, or parents, and although they answer different words that could be placed into the slot, I often become frustrated with the fact that none of their answers have the connotations or nuances that I would like to use within my writing. Although in the moment, I am upset with my inability to express or communicate my thoughts, with further consideration, I appreciate that although I may not be able to always convey my feelings in the language I want to, the ability to be able to convey it at all is a priceless gift I have received by being born into the international community and having the opportunities to learn so many more languages.

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