Language learning to better understand the worldMarkus Raab
At some point in my life, I want to be able to communicate in at least 4 languages. Even though I currently do not put emphasis on language learning I know that the time will come again. A few months ago I learned some phrases in Indonesian. It once again showed me how important it is to be able to communicate without technology. Google Translate and some other offline translator apps can definitely be a lifesaver. I remember how my wife and I navigated through rural areas of Vietnam, using Google Translate to reach out for the help of local people. It definitely worked and as technology develops it will work even better. However, there is more than the translation from one language to another.
Language learning is not only vocabulary and grammar
Language is deeply connected to the culture of a region or a country. When you learn a language it is more than vocabulary and grammar. Many times we are only able to understand the meaning behind words and phrases when we have knowledge about the culture. Many times we gain knowledge of the culture by words and phrases in a foreign language. It is interrelated. There is no culture without language and no language without culture.
After some time in Bali, I started to learn some phrases in the Balinese language and Indonesian language. As a matter of fact, those two languages are completely different. At first, I could hardly ever make use of the phrases I studied in the Indonesian language. Everyone was able to speak English.
Getting off the tourist path allowed me to practice and connect
Gradually I skipped touristic places and spent more time in local areas. Suddenly, English was not widely understood anymore. I went to local street food stalls and fruit shops and learned with the owners and people working there. I learned numbers, phrases, negotiated, and connected with the people there. Of course, for them, it is also some kind of hospitality. They knew if they connect with me, I’ll come back and become a permanent customer.
The owner of one of the warungs (local restaurants) even questioned me from time to time. She was like my personal teacher. It was fun, I practiced the language by applying it daily, the locals had their laugh with me, I could occasionally surprise them with a new phrase, and in fact, I got better prices than other tourists.
By learning the language of a country I am able to understand more than just words
Being able to speak another language means many different things to me. It probably means different things to different people. Speaking another language means I am able to understand and be understood. It means I get a chance to understand the meaning behind words and the culture that is deeply related to a language. Speaking another language is one of many ways to show locals that I respect them. The best of it – speaking another language lets you open up and connect with people around the world.
My wife Ekaterina is from Russia and a total language enthusiast. She spends days and nights with textbooks, podcasts, audiobooks, language assignments, tandem learning, Instagram Live broadcasts in which she discusses the art of language learning.
While studying another language takes the energy of me at first, it acts as an energy boost to my wife. When I asked her why she studies languages she immediately shouted: “it’s exciting!”. Only later she came up with similar arguments as I did. The initial answer though is so simple and true.
Because it is exciting to understand and be understood. It is exciting to understand the deeper meaning behind words and phrases and get to know the culture of a region or country better. It is exciting to respect locals and be respected by locals while traveling. And on top of that, it is very exciting to open up and connect with people around the world.
The languages that have chosen me: German, English, Spanish, and Russian
German, English, Spanish, and Russian – those are the languages I have listed on my CV. The languages I spent at least several months or years with. I am not sure whether I have chosen the languages or whether the languages have chosen me. Although those are not the top 4 languages spoken in the world it is quite impressive how widely they are spoken or understood when you have a look at the following map.
German: my mother tongue (well technically it is Austrian German)
English: my second language (as for so many others in the world) and besides German the language I use on a daily basis
Spanish: besides French the next language that is often taught in my home country Austria; I studied Spanish during my year abroad in Austin, TX and took summer courses in Alicante and Malaga (Spain)
Russian: the mother tongue of my wife; I studied Russian for 2 semesters at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz and took a summer class in Nizhny Novgorod for 3 week
The most spoken languages in the world: will one of those be number 5?
I will need a lot more time until I am able to actually speak Spanish and Russian, so there is no need to rush to the next language. I think I will be fine with 4 languages in the end. However, according to the map presented by Babbel, the next has to be Chinese (Mandarin – 918 million native speakers) or Hindi (341 million native speakers). Sounds like a challenge!
I am just a normal guy, right now I actually only speak German and English. I am really not able to actually speak Russian or Spanish (anymore). However, I studied Russian and Spanish a lot, so I have a very good basic knowledge. I never thought I will be able to say ‘I am speaking 4 languages’. Right now, I say, ‘I am looking forward to speaking 4 languages.’