“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

Over on antiracistparent.com, there was a post about the importance to anti-racist parenting of learning other languages.

The responses indicate that learning other languages

  • encourages respect of other cultures and races
  • shows children that it is important to embrace cultures that are different
  • shows children that we, as parents, value other cultures
  • shows people of other cultures that we appreciate who they are and what they have to say

Only one brave person ventured that learning another language brings a deep understanding of that culture, and can lead to global understanding.

Something in all of these opinions, except the last, makes me uneasy. Despite the respect and ostensibly global thinking expressed, it seems to me that they stem from a viewpoint that is steeped in privilege.

Perhaps it is the juxtaposition with the gripes and justifications that language competency is too difficult to achieve, that bother me?

Perhaps it is the disconnect between what parents advocate for their children and what they do themselves (clearly expressed by Tami, ARP’s editor and chief blogger, but ignored by the readers)?

Or perhaps it is the overwhelming “otherness” expressed?

How about considering language-learning (to whatever level of competency – you can start, with your children, on Dora The Explorer, for example) as

  • a way of joining the majority of the people of the world who speak more than one language
  • an avenue to seeing things from another perspective (language embodies concepts and those that exist in one language do not necessarily exist in another as multilinguists around the world will tell you)
  • a chance to understand the commonality that exists between us (compare, mommy, ummi, mama, amma, umma: English, Arabic, Spanish/Italian/Chinese, Indian languages, Korean, respectively)
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8 thoughts on ““The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

  1. You are brilliant, Sinoangle. Thank you for pointing out something that should have been obvious but is often misunderstood by many, especially Americans.

  2. Oops, I mean:

    # a way of joining the majority of the people of the world who speak more than one language
    # an avenue to seeing things from another perspective (language embodies concepts and those that exist in one language do not necessarily exist in another as multilinguists around the world will tell you)

    are good ways of framing it.

  3. Ugh, I realize now what bothers me about the first four reasons: they are about “human relations programming”.

    Also, instead of “learning another language brings a deep understanding of that culture, and can lead to global understanding”, you could go further and say, “”learning another language brings a deep understanding of the limits of your own language and culture.”

  4. I tend to think that many people (including myself) can’t stand to be incompetent in a language. Therefore it’s easier to write it off as an impossibility rather than to ever try.

    My desire to learn languages comes from the desire to talk to other people. And I am always amazed by people’s patience and willingness to respond to me when I’m speaking another language poorly.

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