Breaking the Language Barrier


“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

I have to be honest, before I got my head into full-on perfecting my abilities as a German speaker, I saw language simply as a means to communicate. I thought there wasn’t anything more to it than enabling the speaker to get by in life by letting others know what they want/ need and by answering any questions/ statements raised by others so they can make their opinion heard.

Ever since I’ve been quite literally immersed in the German language, I grew a peculiar interest in learning about the history of a language and its uniqueness in terms of its usage to bring across the idea of appreciation, respect and even resentment.

“There is an enormous connection between language and culture… language and thought.” – Tim Doner

Knowing the dictionary’s explanation of a certain word’s meaning doesn’t mean You can ‘speak the language’.

As it was mentioned in the talk, if You go into a Persian bookstore and ask, “How much is this?”, they’d reply with, “It’s worthless.” You see this is an ingrained cultural practice where two people having a conversation, both people would try to behave more humble than the other so if You go to buy a book, it would be rude for the seller to tell You it’s $5. They should instead bring across the idea that the book is worthless in comparison to You, aka “I’m so humbled, take the book for free.”

Or if an Iranian would like to show their gratitude to You or tell You how nice it was to have met You, they’d probably say, “May I sacrifice my life for You.”

I learned that in the Finnish language, they use the same word “ihmisen”/ “ihme” for “miracle” and “human”. Imagine being introduced into a world where You are taught that humans are considered miracles. This shows the ideology of this Finnish people, how they hold a very high regard for human life.

Some may call this melodramatic, but You see, one really has to understand the culture to get. A language doesn’t inherently affect the way You think, but there’s a real tie between language and culture/ methodology/ history/ folklore , so much so that it can tell You about one culture’s mindset, and in fact on Planet Earth, every 2 weeks, another language dies because of war, because of famine.

A person going to language class to brush up on their Mother Tongue, for instance, will not stop language death, but it will open their eyes to a cultural world view.

“You can translate words easily, but You can’t quite translate meaning.” – Tim Doner


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