Crossing Language Borders and Barriers…by Train

Fog is a blanket over the mountains outside my window. The sun is pushing its way through, attempting to warm the branches of each tree and the roofs of each house and I sit as the world, or more specifically Germany is passing me by. My mind wanders down many paths. The first is that I find the train to be my favorite form of transportation, other than walking of course. I cosy up to the window seat and watch as scene after scene passes by. I slowly am getting a glimpse into Germany where I will be visiting for the next two days. I hear the language as the train conductor announces each stop and it is beautiful. It is often disorienting when we hear nothing but foreign languages but that is also what makes it beautiful. I have been familiarizing myself with the basic German phrases but I still have no idea what they are saying as we pull into each station. But what I have realized is how much more attentively one must listen and pay attention when somewhere other than our home country. Often it is body language, facial expressions, and gestures that allow me to communicate. A laugh, a smile, or nod of the head lets me know in what direction to go, or if I sound ridiculous. Body language is just as important as the words we say, whether we are meeting someone for the first time, or we’re speaking with a friend we’ve known for years.

It seems that language is a complicated concept that can never truly  be master and that is why I find it so exciting. Mistakes must be made in order to learn. I often reflect on conversations I have had long after they are over. I sometimes pick through the conversations, reliving the words I used thinking, “Could I have said that differently?” “Was I clear enough?” or for my literary practice, “What metaphor could I have used?” I find the beauty in being able to say one idea in many ways. One can be clear and concise, or speak in figurative sentences that are beautifully crafted. Each serves its purpose and finds its home within each individual. Thus you can never say exactly what you mean and exactly how you want to say it and have it received and understood by everyone.

As  I prepare for the field course I am about to embark on, I reflect in the first paper on this very idea. Language is versatile. Language is complicated. Language is not meant to be reduced to simple terms. Communicating is difficult. Humans struggle everyday to understand each other. Hard work must be put into how we use our language and more often than not, in search of quicker and easier ways to communicate, we globalize the languages that hold immense amounts of power. For example, English. English reaches many corners of the world. I have been struggling with this particular identity of mine for a few years now. I know that communicating is hard work yet I have never had to work very hard to do it. I love language. I think it is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Yet I am only fluent in one. English has a bloody history and as I speak I am aware of its beauty and its ugliness. Here I reference J.R.R Tolkien, the British author, who believed that nothing in this world is strictly evil or completely good. Our world is never black and white, it cannot be that simple. So when I sometimes feel shame for language, i am reminded of its beauty every time I read a poem or pick up my favorite novel.

As lover of language I only hope that communities that were once struggling to hold on to their native tongue and culture are able to do so and even better, share it with the world. Words have power because we allow it to, and it is not simple about the power of words but which wolf you decide to feed with the words that you speak.

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