Language is more than just a way to communicate. Language is a way to see the world, a kind of reality. Speaking, writing, or reading a language is a way of experiencing and perceiving that reality, and each language is a different reality.
My first experience with language (other than English) was Spanish, at my Spanish-immersion school. It’s all a haze of memory, but kindergarden was one big blur, all coming together like a mix of two colors of playdough, or a trix yogurt. I distinctly remember the room, with a connected bathroom and brightly colored walls, plastered with drawings and numbers and letters like any other elementary classroom. The teacher, Maestro Arturo, or Mister Arthur, is from Chile, a country I haven’t heard of in my narrow five years of existence. He speaks a few words of English, mumbling and fumbling through introductions and first lessons. He makes such an attempt to speak well with the English parents, and he is so patient with the children, as are we with him, that even though I don’t remember much from this year, I can easily say that he was a great teacher, and one of the best I’ve ever had. Over the year we stumble through Spanish words, and then Spanish phrases, and then Spanish sentences, finally ending the blur of a year with a grasp of Spanish and still having learned what every other kindergartener learns in a year. I remember not speaking much English with Mister Arthur, and him not speaking much English with us, and to this day I believe that it’s the best way to learn a language: immersion.
To plunge into a language, to be urged to learn the language simply out of necessity, is the only way to learn a language. Not in the classroom writing a word fifty times, or on a computer, yelling into the speakers. The only way to learn a language is to live in it, to marinate in it over time, and to want to learn. Through this immersive learning I have learned two languages other than English, and I plan to continue to grow.
My immersive experience with Spanish was a way to experience and understand this new language, and in turn this new reality. Having learned Spanish, I can say that I know of another side to life, and another world completely different from English. I also learned German from my mother and her family through this immersion.
As I lay in my bed, my hands clasped behind my head, I look out into the night sky through the tiny little porthole window in the ceiling. It is not quite darkness, and it never will be. The light will never fully fade, but just dim until it is barely recognizable. You could still walk and see the world around you. It is late in the night, or early in the morning, and the time blends together. One moment I look into the clock, seeing an eleven, and the next minute I look over to see a two. I lie awake like this for what seems like hours, but I can never quite tell, and the clock is always lying. Everything in this country is new and off in a way that can only be experienced in another country. My body is telling me it’s afternoon and that I should look out of the window and see a sun dipping towards the horizon, but my eyes tell me the truth.
This window in the slanted roof is my only view of the outside world, but in my head, I can experience other worlds. I can hear words and stories, and I can see pictures and places, but there’s still a distinct language to what I hear. I struggle my first few days in this new country, trying to get back the German I once learned, trying to brush off the dust that has fallen over that crystal ball. As I blow it away, the language comes back, I begin to speak with ease, and I can feel a different world around me. I lay in my bed each night, and I slowly feel an evolution come over me. I begin to sleep locally, and my body adjusts its clocks to match the ones on the walls. The thoughts and worlds in my mind slowly switch language, becoming new worlds as I experience them in German.
Each time I go back to visit Germany and my family there, I have to make the evolution from English to German, and it’s a noted change in the way I experience the world, and also the world I am in. Just changing the language I speak and think in changes my world and changes my reality. An ancient Chinese proverb states that:
“To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”
Each language is a window to look at the world, but also a reality in and of itself that you can experience. Language is a way to experience, and a way to be. Languages are their own realities and to learn a new language is to learn a new reality.
Ager, Simon. "Proverbs, Quotations and Sayings about Language." Proverbs and Quotations about Language in Many Languages. Web. <http://www.omniglot.com/language/proverbs/language.htm>.