A Conversation for Talking Point: Learning Languages


Post 1


The idea behind Esperanto is a terrific one although somewhat naïve. Our language reflects what we are and perhaps the ‘war’ element is an inherent part of our being. Our selfishness overrules any thought of peace. Nowadays peace is only really possible in countries that have already fought wars and have now come to a tacit agreement with others in order to maintain economic convenience. A language may be void of political connotations but not its speakers.
Learning a second or another language is still important. It is only by learning how other peoples communicate and think that we can begin to understand each other fully.
English is now the unofficial second language for many: people from diverse countries eg Italy and Japan can converse in a common language which is English. A group of my students (Italians) recently went on an international cruise and came back declaring that if they had learnt English properly (ie if they’d listened in class!) they’d have been able to communicate with all the other nationalities on board. In order to speak to the German and French passengers they didn’t need German or French but English. English was the ‘other’ language everyone else spoke.
Knowing another person’s language is not simply a question of being able to communicate. In order to learn a language one has to listen, reflect, learn new words and consequently new ideas about the culture that speaks that language. It’s not so much the knowledge of the language itself but the process by which one has learnt the language that implies that the learner is more inclined to listen and learn from others and therefore cross the bridges of incommunication.
I have already learnt a second language which is Italian and I speak five languages at various levels of competence: Italian, Neapolitan, French and enough German to give directions, prices and basic personal information as well as my own native English.
Learning another language is an essential part of becoming immersed in the life and culture of a country but in order to do this fully it is also important to live in that country for a number of years, taking an active part in the country’s way of life and everyday events.
Is understanding dependent on good or bad translation? Isn’t listening to one another, observing other people’s lifestyle without preconceptions perhaps the key to greater understanding? Communication isn’t simply linguistic although a knowledge of mutual languages does simplify comprehension.
I don’t think Esperanto would have solved the lust for war. English has become a sort of Esperanto and there are still wars in the world. I think war stems from other factors: our inherent utter selfishness and wanting more and more. Of course many wars are fought for the freedom of oppressed peoples – if we all spoke Esperanto I don’t think there would be less war but if we all stopped and reflected on why people want to be free and why others don’t want them to be free maybe we could reach some kind of solution. The ideal of Esperanto should be extended to a more universal concept of communication and idea-sharing.

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