How Language Shapes The Way We Think

A fascinating TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky explains why I want to learn another language fluently, because language shapes the way we think.

4 Reasons to Learn Another Language by John McWhorter, different perspective from Lera’s perspective above, however also ineresting.

Language

Language

I have always found language learning to be challenging and also very frustrating. I took 4 years of Spanish in High School and 2 years in College and can barely remember anything I learned during that time. I have been convinced that the methods used to teach language learning in American classrooms are terrible and that other methods can be far more successful than the classroom environment. I spent a summer in Mexico and got myself to a point where I could understand a lot of Spanish, but speaking it was entirely different and very difficult for me. I can read Spanish better than I can listen to it or speak it, but that provides limited benefit when trying to interact with somebody.

I was recently reading about some of the cognitive benefits of being bilingual in this Science News Article. The article spends a lot of time mentioning the benefits for children who learn two languages early in life, but also mentioned adults benefitting from being bilingual. These benefits include quicker thinking and problem solving skills. In addition to cognitive benefits for the bilingual individual, language helps shape our world view. Stanford University and MIT have been researching how a persons language impacts how they view the world and how they perceive or not perceive various aspects of their surroundings. The movie Arrival takes this concept to the extreme with an alien species teaching a human a language that causes her to perceive time itself differently where she no longer lives her life linearly. I don’t believe language can impact our perception of reality to this extreme, but I believe it helps shape how we view the world. I have a minor in Cross Cultural Studies so I have always been interested in how different people view the world. This is also the lens I use to look at politics and I always find it interesting that people can view the same events and the same set of facts and come to completely different conlusions. An individuals world view has a profound impact on their life. Learning another language, in theory, would allow me to see the world differently, to think about it differently and to understand things differently. My theory has been that bilingual speakers have an advantage in being able to see the world from a unique perspective because of how language shapes their world view. At 39 years old I have felt that I have missed the window to learn a new language and become a bilingual individual. Fortunately research shows I am not too old to learn a new language, but it may be more difficult than if I had tried when I was younger. If I put the time into it, I should be able to achieve one of my life goals of being bilingual.

As I pondered how I would go about learning Spanish again I had a thought, “Why should I learn Spanish?” My initial thought was that it should be easier due to my education and background. Then I thought “I don’t want easy.” I want a challenge. I want to do something that I am not sure is possible for me to do. I decided to see what languages are the most commonly spoken around the world. I learned that the top 3 languages are Chinese, Spanish and then English. Chinese is spoken by 1.2 billion people and China is making significant strides in business and technology. My interest in cryptocurrency and what Tron (TRX) is doing also has sparked an interest in China and how internet decentralization could be good for people living in China and the rest of the world. This is when I decided to look into learning Chinese. I found an app for my phone (Hello Chinese) that makes bold claims that in 10 minutes a day I could be fluent in Chinese in 3 months. While I don’t believe that claim, I found there are many tools to help someone who is a beginner start learning Chinese. Duolingo is another app that I will be using to try and learn some of the basics. So, I downloaded the app and started down the path of learning Chinese. Additional interest in Chinese stems from having friends who will be adopting from China in the coming months and a co-worker from China who can correct any improper pronunciation I may have along the way, which I am certain will be an issue for me. If 10 minutes a day gets me to where I would be at a 5 year olds level of communication I would consider that a huge success.

Now, this is where I also had another thought. “Why stop at being bilingual? Why not trilingual?” That would certinaly be more difficult than only knowing two languages and if I were to be able to communicate in English, Spanish and Chinese then I would have the three most widely used languages on the planet covered. That would be an impressive accomplishment. So, I am also going to be practicing more Spanish while focusing on Chinese. I am also looking for apps that connect people interested in language learning for live discussion and practice (HelloTalk and WeSpeke are two I have located so far). I recognize that without actually speaking my learning will be inhibited so I will need to find ways to practice speaking.

It is currently May 9, 2018 and my goal is to have basic fluency in both Chinese and Spanish by May 2020. I am hopeful that the concept of 10 minutes a day is actually enough for this old brain of mine to learn a new language. I am also hopeful that I will be able to achieve this goal well before the two year window I am giving myself. I figure the worst that will happen is that I will still only speak English by this time in 2020.

A Letter to My Son on 11-04-08

A Letter to My Son on 11-04-08

Jack,

You are still in the womb as I write this, but you could be days away from being born. Your Mom and I anticipate seeing you for the first time very soon. The excitement of seeing you is something that is truly impossible to describe.

I want to tell you about something truly historic that has happened today. Your Mom and I have watched history unfold. We watched as America elected the first African American President! I am so grateful that you will be growing up in a society that has overcome a great deal of racism and bigotry. We have hope that this country will continue to provide opportunity for anyone, regardless of their skin color, ethnic background, or gender. Today marked a huge moment for the United States of America.

Son, I also want you to know that I truly wish I had been able to vote for the first African American President. I did cast a vote for the losing candidate, but it had nothing to do with race or ethnic background. My vote in large part was because of my concern for children who are unborn, children just like you Jack. Barack Obama is an advocate for what society is calling ‘Abortion Rights’. Essentially this gives a woman the right to kill her unborn child. Your Mom and I consider this practice of abortion to be a silent holocaust, one that is killing over a million children each year within the United States. I was unable in good conscience to cast a vote for Barack Obama, even though I wanted to be part of making this historic moment a reality, electing the first African American President. Yet, even though I did not cast a vote for Barack Obama, I am so proud to live in an America that has elected an African American to be President. And I am so grateful that your history books will have a picture in them that will look like this.

It is with much love and anticipation that I write this to you my son.

Love,

Dad