Languages are a consistent paradox of the common and the discrete. Their ability to open up worldly intricacies, while also isolating them entirely is perhaps what gives them their intimacy and allure.
As a French student, like many other bilingual students, I often find myself reaching to the French language for an synonym-whether it be in a thought, a dream, or quite often whilst writing articles. The fluidity and sound of French words allow them to roll off the tongue so gracefully that it seems a gross injustice not to be able to use them. Is it that the French language belongs to a French school of thought that possesses a greater grace in nature? After all, they have set aside words for some of the most intimate aspects of the world around us – for example, la douleur exquisite expresses the heart wrenching pain of unrequited love, whilst flâner means to roam around the streets of Paris rather aimlessly and carefree.
It is universally acknowledged that as human beings, we thrive upon understanding and a sense of belonging, whether it be to another person or a community. To attain and express this sense of belonging, many take to artistic expression- whether it be in physical forms like dance, or in audible outputs such as music. Surely then, language, too, is an art form of the mind that combines both the physical (articulation) and the audible (hearing) to create a place where we can exist with belonging. We can never be lost for words, because somewhere among the many languages that exist is a phrase or sound that can bring us comfort and reassurance.
We can never be lost for words, because somewhere among the many languages that exist is a phrase or sound that can bring us comfort and reassurance.
All our fears stem from ignorance, from a fear of the unknown. The United Kingdom is gifted with a rich variety of culture and diversity, including diversity of language, which takes our communities and injects them with character. However, this also brings us to an arguably darker side of language- that being its ability to isolate us from one another. In a world that often seems full of suspicion and mistrust, there’s an element of fear created from not being unable to understand what someone else is saying. This misunderstanding becomes a vicious circle that can create prejudice, hate, and that often results in racial discrimination. Our languages shape who we are, but surely sharing our identity and gaining another in return is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.
Alexa Chung’s humourous AG campaign at the beginning of the year played upon the typical, struggling ‘Brit abroad’, nervously grappling with the language barrier. He portrays an endearing, bumbling and broken French that you can’t help but smile at. Chung’s dry sense of humour played upon the stereotype. It begs the question why many holidaying Brits continue to put us to shame with their ignorance and assumption that everyone speaks, and will speak, English. With a vast array of language learning services available (many of them free) surely there could be no better time to discover a new culture and create a new side to yourself with a foreign language. Besides, let’s not forget the sex appeal that is intrinsically connected to the mystique of foreign languages. Let’s take Love Actually: If Jamie had merely rocked up at the restaurant and proclaimed to Aurelia in English, we wouldn’t have swooned half as much as we did when he confessed his love in broken Portuguese. If that’s not a reason to get on the ol’ Babel I don’t know what is.
By no means is anyone expecting beautiful fluency. Simple phrases are how everyone starts. In its simplest sense, learning a language is one of the greatest signs of respect you can pay to someone; it is a way of showing awareness, consideration, and commitment. It is a means of sharing your identity with someone and gaining many identities in return.