Speaking languages, part I

In Finland we get one of the best language educations in the world I dare say. At school we are taught at least two foreign languages (English and Swedish) before the age of 14 and in most schools you can make it three (add German) if you want. And after 14 there is almost no limit – in free public school one can study usually up to at least seven different languages (add French, Spanish, Italian and Russian) before finishing high school. And all of that is for free. For a small fee there are also courses and workshops of various other languages (Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese…) in community colleges available to anyone interested.

None of imported TV shows or movies (expect the ones for children) are dubbed, they always have subtitles. Most big companies use English in their marketing and in their slogans. Brands or names are never translated and they are usually pronounced as in their original language.

Still the most usual answer from a Finn to a question about their language skills (even English) would be “Oh, I suck at it”. Of course, not all of us have a head for languages. Not all of us will ever learn to be fluent in other languages, in speech or in writing. Well, not all of us will ever be fluent even in our mother tongue. But to say that after at least seven years of studying a foreign language you could “suck at it” is just not true.

I’ve come to value my language education during my travels especially when I interact with people whose mother tongue is English. I’ve met people who have never learned any other language (why would they, everybody speaks English) or who have tried but given up (who needs another language, everybody speaks English anyway). I feel fortunate to have my own language besides the one I use to get by while I travel. To be able to learn about so many beautiful places, cities, countries in a foreign language and then get to experience it again in my own language when I tell about it to my friends and family.  I also feel that knowing another language makes you more open also to languages you don’t know. To me yet another new language isn’t as intimidating as it might be to someone who doesn’t understand any foreign languages.

I love English language, it has grown on me over the years and a day doesn’t go by that I wouldn’t use a proverb or a saying in English. I sometimes even think in English and I choose the language for this blog to be English because writing about travel comes most effortlessly when I do in English.

I think language is not just a way to communicate, it includes so many indications of the culture you are visiting as well. To understand another culture better, it pays to know some of their language as well.

This post is dedicated to my grandfather who just recently – suddenly and unexpectedly – passed away. Pappa, you knew what speaking foreign languages are all about – a means to widen one’s perspective. I miss you.

This is the first part of a series about Speaking languages. Part 2 and 3 coming up.

by Mari in Thoughts and stories

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