A few weeks back, I took up intensive elementary classes of Japanese. At two hours a day with the occasional homework, an ever burgeoning list of vocabulary to memorise, the need to consistently maintain basic fluency with standard greetings and phrases, it has been nothing short of a humbling experience.
And I would it all over again, and then more.
A new language opens up new cultural pathways. If language is the soul of a human mind, then it follows that language is also the backbone of a society. Tradition, architecture and mannerisms are fashioned from the stone canvas of language, with time as its chisel and the people as the mallet.
Translations will suffice, that’s true, but as any translator will attest to, a number of cultural nuances, expressional subtleties and nuggets of verbal exposé are often left marooned. Anyone with a basic bilingualism will understand this much.
Reading is vitally important for me because I owe the bulk of my philosophical debt to the authors who invited me into their canvas of words. So imagine how I felt when I managed to form and thread a meaningful story from a very simple Japanese picture book.
Enid Blyton once wrote in one of her stories about new and mysterious worlds that would periodically be accessible to the children staying in a huge tree that reached the skies. Learning a new language is exactly that: a new world, an unfamiliar landscape, distant but inviting, waiting for someone’s intellectual curiosity to mentally excavate its secrets.
Just like philosophy, skepticism and rational discourse have given me the intellectual honesty to examine my beliefs, learning a new language has provided given me a periscope and an explorer’s hat.
So, have you thought about learning a new language?