My knowledge of TESOL, including experiences teaching for the British Council in Venezuela and Vietn...
Culture & Language10 December 2013, by Shashi Beltgens
"Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments and ideas of self and other."
We are progressively living, working and studying more with people from different cultures. As a consequence of globalisation, we are likely to study along classmates, work with colleagues or have neighbours of all sorts of nationalities.
So it has become imperative for us to learn foreign languages and understand that people from diverse cultures are distinct.
The necessity of a global language
Nowadays it is easier to travel and far more common for people to move around the world. Thus the need for learning the international language is obvious and urgent.
Technology, mass media and the internet have played an important role in making English the language of trade, travel, technology and science. The more educated and affluent people in most parts of the world speak English, which also supports English’s current status as the world language.
It is clear that communication breaks down when two people find each other unintelligible because they speak different languages. In such situations, any knowledge of English or the local language can be a bridge builder.
Expats & Foreign languages
Expat life can be challenging and daunting: foreigners working and living abroad must navigate between the cultural values of their native country and the adopted one. World cultures are diverse and people act, think, communicate, perceive, evaluate, respond and behave in other ways.
› Settling down
To survive in a new culture it is essential to adapt and, in order to do so, some knowledge of English or the local language makes it easier to settle down.
When people can communicate (even at a basic level) in English or the language of their adopted home, they quickly get acquainted with the new way of life because there is no language barrier.
› Easy integration
Moreover, knowledge of the new language enables them to deal with their struggles, anxieties and prejudices, and helps them to integrate into the community.
Therefore, it becomes simpler for outsiders to absorb culture shocks and break cultural barriers in their new home.
As soon as newcomers are assimilated into their new way of life, they start to feel comfortable in forming their own point of view and feeling in control of their lives.
› Understanding other cultures
Wouldn’t it be remarkable to be able to adjust to diverse cultures? Undeniably, yes!
For example, most people would find it fascinating to know:
- why cherry blossoms in Japan represent the fragility and beauty of life .
- the Turkish belief in "Nazar Boncugu," the evil eye, which is believed to provide a shield from evil .
- the custom that Germans do not give carnations to each other as these flowers symbolise mourning for them.
- the ancient ritual of paying respect to the water spirits of "Loi Krathong" (a lotus-shaped container decorated with banana leaves, incense and candles is floated in water) in Thailand .
Photo by Flickr user marqqus
- the idea in the USA that competition brings out the best in people .
- the tradition of family members taking care of the elderly in Venezuela .
- the fact that the culture in Tanzania is influenced by more than 120 tribes .
- the tradition of serving beschuit met muisjes, Dutch biscuit with sugared anise, when people come to visit a new born and his/her mother in the Netherlands.
- why Vietnamese people list their family name first and their given name last, and that most names can be used for either gender.
and the list goes on...
› A skill for life
Furthermore, learning a new language can be rewarding and fun: it opens unimaginable doors into new cultures. In addition, the knowledge of other languages is a valuable skill for life.
Regardless of the difficulty in retaining the new language at the start, the commitment to learn pays off a hundred times in the end. When people embrace the language of their newfound home, the natives respect them for their effort.
All cultures possess tangible elements such as art, food and literature, to which can also be added interpretations, perceptions and responses. So being aware of them can be educational and mind opening.
Undoubtedly, these days more people work, live and study in a foreign country and it has become fundamental to study English or the language of the new country.
Language guides us through cultures, with regards to their range of attitudes, religions and way of life.
Having lived in 11 countries, I strongly suggest you take the step, practise your language skills and begin a magnificent journey!
Shashi Beltgens has lived in eleven countries and has taught English in six of them. She is a teacher at Kickstart School, which specialises in English & Dutch courses in The Hague. For more information, please comment below or visit their website.