We often hear the words – language barrier especially while trying to communicate with another person whose native tongue isn’t the same as ours. We will then default to a language that either both can speak fluently in or just enough to be understood in. If it’s a language we can only speak passingly, each person will then compile what they need to say in their head by relying on their native tongue, and then translate it often literally into the language of communication. The results of such an exercise are most times wildly comical! 🙂 While it is entertaining and I’ve had plenty a laughs myself over the years, I’m not too fond of the word “barrier” in this context.
I have to say, I was one of the lucky ones. I was born and raised in a country that officially speaks 150 languages, not even going to start counting the dialects! Growing up I was exposed to at least 6 of the 150 languages, not including English. While I became fluent at some just because of the level of my interaction, the others I was able to pick up enough to maybe follow a conversation and contribute sparingly. There was never a conscious intent to become fluent at any of these but what it did present for me and every other child in a metropolitan Indian city, is a rare opportunity. The opportunity for a child’s brain to be exposed to a wide array of languages, firing those neurons within the left hemisphere and affording the child the possibility of soaking it all in during his/her formative years.
Now US has always predominantly been an English speaking country, but over the past several decades, the influx of immigrants from the neighboring countries has begun to create a melting pot of cultures and languages. Today, Spanish is taught in schools as a second language. Add to it inter-racial marriages and their progeny automatically inherits the advantage of learning at least 3 languages by default. Can you imagine the possibilities it opens up?! The left hemisphere of the brain is said to control speech, comprehension, arithmetic and writing skills and the hippocampus and surrounding areas of the cerebral cortex specifically are responsible for language skills. Exercising that part of the brain early on during childhood can produce amazing results. Interestingly though, these benefits aren’t just limited to children either.
Studies conducted by Swedish scientists to monitor the effects of learning a new language in adults revealed improved cognitive skills coupled with an increase in the size of the cerebral cortex and an improved ability to learn another new language more easily if these subjects were ever to try again. On a planet where nationalities are melding into one another and people are immigrating to neighboring countries for education, better jobs or just an overall better quality of life, learning and speaking their language just as they will the language of the nation will soon become the norm.
I learned French for 4 years in school (it’s beyond rusty now) and I learned Spanish just for the fun of it a few years ago. Now there have been times (maybe in a drunken stupor) where I have blended the 2 languages and said “Buenos noches, Monsieur” but when I am sober, I try to speak even with broken sentences and mis-tensed verbs just so I can stay in touch or possibly learn a thing or two. I absolutely love when non-Indians try to speak to me in Hindi! If they are friends, I will help them adjust their accents or pronounce a word a certain way, but it touches my heart to see them make the effort.
I have a feeling, there will soon come a time when, if not us then our future generations will have the distinct advantage of knowing and speaking multiple languages and if nothing else, it will help evaporate that “language barrier”!