GCD: Multilingualism (Languages)

As my mother tongue is German, I joined the joined the mother tongue program at YIS as soon as I came here. This was important to me and my parents as we were going to back to Germany after three years and I am going into German A language for the IB. I have now gone to the weekly one-hour long German class after school for three years. Of course, this is going to mean that my level of German is not going to be as high as that of my friends back in Germany who have German as frequently as English but it is definitely better than if I did nothing.

But not only do I think that learning and practicing languages is important but that it is fun as well. Learning languages is something I enjoy greatly. Not only am I fluent in German and English but I have also been taking Spanish for almost five years now. I enjoy learning and practicing all of these languages (plus one year of Japanese) as it is different from all other subjects in the way it is taught and developed. However as it starts off as something we are completely unfamiliar with, it has a similar approach to an introduction to most other classes, such as math or history. The only difference is that that we start learning our second (or in my case third and fourth) language a lot later in life. This is something that fascinates me about humans and their relationships with language. When we are little we learn languages incredibly quickly but once we reach a certain age it gets more difficult. I think this might also be another part that I love about languages, the fact that they can be a challenge for us and our minds.

Another practical use of speaking multiple languages is that I can talk to and understand people from many different countries as two of the three languages I speak are in the top three spoken languages. This makes traveling easier and more comfortable to me and my family.

Another advantage of being able to speak multiple languages fluently is that it has practical uses. One of these is being a translator for my family. As I speak German at home with my parents and both German and English with my siblings, I have quite a bit of practical practice with languages and translating what my siblings are saying to my parents when they don’t quite understand. This gives me practice for when my parents and I are around English speakers with an accent or who speak incredibly quickly as this can be difficult for my parents to understand. I then translate what people are saying to them to help all of them communicate.

Other ways in which I have been a translator are in school. As I go to an international school, sometimes there are new kids that are not fluent in English but speak German, who I can help. I have done this multiple times when a fluent German speaker is at a loss for words as they are thinking in German and just can not think of the right words in English. I then ask them to say what they want in German and I try to convey what they want to say into English. This is a very nice experience for me as I am doing two things I love at the same time, using languages and helping others.

I have never had a chance to officially translate for someone but I would like to some day. When I was in the Combing Human Trafficking group, there was an opportunity for a Japanese book to be translated into English. I wish I could have helped as languages are a passion of mine and I want to use this passion to help others. This is why I would like to do something with languages when I grow up. Either read and recommend or translate books professionally. I would really like to be a professional translator as I want to share other people’s works with a wider audience by giving it to people who speak a different language.

What I learned from translating between languages is that there are many things we can only express in certain languages. Not only are there words that only exist in some languages but also the way we convey things vary from language to language. I tend to find that Germans are very direct in what and how they express their opinions. When translating this into another language I need to be careful that I say it in a way that is accepted by their culture. For example, Japanese are generally a bit more hesitant to say no so if a German answers their question with a direct no, I might translate this as they don’t think they will rather than just NO. This is one of the hardest things I have to deal with when translating. I have to find a mid-ground between being honest and true to what they said but also respect the other person’s culture. This can sometimes be hard for me as I am German and thus tend to often be more direct. In this way, I believe going around the world has helped me become more aware of this and has helped me become a better translator.

Coming to Japan most definitely opened my eyes to a whole new culture. As before moving to Japan, I had only known very western cultures (USA and Germany), this was a whole new experience for me. Not just is the culture very different but in Japan, they speak a language, unlike anything I had ever heard before. Whilst German and English originate from the Germanic branch of languages, Japanese does not. This means that it is a mostly unrecognizable language. Additionally, the letters are completely different to the ones I was brought up with. I studied Japanese for one school year and within this year I was astonished by how different yet similar languages can be.

This makes me think about how countries communicate with each other and how the people within these countries exchange information. Because cultures vary from one country to the next, it must be difficult for people to communicate, even without the language barrier. Luckily, at least the language barrier is starting to become less of a problem as more people are learning English as a global language. However, although it is great that we can now exchange information between cultures, I hope that the cultures of the countries do not get destroyed. This is important to me as I love experiencing new cultures and I think it is important for countries and their people to have individuality. Of course, we can not avoid globalization but we can hold onto our origins and pass on our culture.

1 Comment on GCD: Multilingualism (Languages)

  1. Mr. Pitter
    June 15, 2017 at 10:00 pm (2 years ago)

    Approved for GCD Inter-Cultural Communication and Multilingualism. I love your observation about translating a German “no” in a Japanese “they do not think that they will”, and how translation is not only about content, but also form, or that you are not just translating language, but culture as well.


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