Language and the Ability to See and Feel

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Dear Readers,

Yesterday, I watched a Bollywood movie titled English Vinglish.  It’s about an Indian women (Shashi) with very limited English who goes to New York City for her sister’s wedding.  The movie depicts her struggles and embarrassment with learning the language that occurs not only with her new environment, but with her family as well.  Overall, I thought it was an intriguing and touching film that I would recommend.

What I enjoyed most about English Vinglish was the interaction between the main character and a French man (Laurent) from her ESL class.  This is because during moments where there was intense emotion, whether it was anger or frustration, they spoke to each other in their native tongue.  Even though Laurent could not understand Hindi, and Shashi could not understand French, they spoke to each other in these moments without hesitation or fear that the other could not understand.  And although these two characters could not verbally understand what the other was saying, there was still a form of understanding through seeing and feeling.  They were able to really see each other and feel what the other was feeling.  I thought this was a brilliant aspect to the film, especially since I recently wrote a post about being able to see people for who they are.

It is this seeing and feeling that allows us to be more connected and compassionate with other people.  And it is this seeing and feeling that I tried to capture and invoke in my book Kingdom of Sun.  One of my goals was to make every reader feel connected to a character/s and to feel like they know, or perhaps are, just like a character/s in the book.

What I did not like about the film was how many of its characters were portrayed with stereotypical personalities and occupations.  That really bothered me for a film that is supposed to display a positive and seemingly image-changing perception of different cultures.

One of the movie’s messages seemed to dictate that learning the English language is a big way that one can receive respect and prestige, not just in America but anywhere else.  This message angered me not only because it is something that I do not believe in, but because it is something that many other people and countries believe in and practice as well.  I discuss this much more in my post titled “The Power of Language.”  Feel free to read it below if you like.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Power of Language

Dear Readers,

Language has always been a powerful weapon throughout time.  It was and still is used as a means of control and deception.  Think of European attempts of “civilization” and how the media tends to use certain phrases as opposed to others, for example.  The language that I want to focus on is of course English, American English to be exact.  There are not many people who truly understand the significance of speaking English, let alone the difficulty in learning it.  The fact that many who have been out of school for years have trouble differentiating “there,” “their” and “they’re” is proof enough of the English language’s complexity and difficulty.  And because of that, I honestly feel honored and blessed to posses the skill of writing, speaking and reading it.  It is also because of such that I find it shameful when those who do not posses such a skill are made fun of, or when people get irritated or even angry when English is not spoken or if someone knows very little.  I find this interesting because in other countries when a foreigner attempts to speak the native tongue, you will most likely find that the person is flattered and honored.  This is because language is a form of connection, and so an attempt by a foreigner to speak another language signifies their effort to build a bond and connect.  Why is it that some people here don’t feel that way?  Well, I believe that this is because for us, language represents change.  And many detest change.  Back in college, there was a class discussion on how students in a school recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish.  This was of course to signify the ever growing impact of the Spanish language in America.  The professor discussed how many parents were upset and offended by this, and therefore asked the class how they felt.  Like me, the professor was slightly offended herself that people would even be uncomfortable with the representation of diversity in the country that preaches it so often, but nevertheless, she wanted to know what the class thought.  The majority of them actually believed that it was wrong, yet what stood out the most was that they couldn’t provide a valid explanation as to why they felt that way.  Some said it was because the Pledge of Allegiance is a representation of the country and so it was strange and uncomfortable to have it recited in another language…I’m sorry, what?  This once again brings me back to the statement that many say and act like this country is so accepting and open, and yet they unconsciously reveal the complete opposite.  I say “unconsciously” because I believe that they really didn’t know the significance of their words.  And this means even more considering that they were speaking from emotions that they felt deep down.  What is there to be offended about?  Shouldn’t parents be happy that their children are being educated on another language?  Shouldn’t we be jumping for joy that something that is so important to us is said in another language?  Is there a deeper fear of something that many are afraid to say out loud?  I think so.

I have lost count of the number of foreigners that I have met that know multiple tongues.  I will even go so far as to say that almost all of them knew at least two other languages.  I’m not talking about a couple words here and there, I’m talking about actually knowing another language.  And I am envious of them.  Why?  Let’s see, counting middle school, high school, and college I took french for six years, latin for three, and Italian for one.  Today I can only speak, read and write English. What about you? Is there not something wrong here?  I remember complimenting my English professor because she fluently knew French.  You know what she said?  “Oh, you students aren’t being educated properly.”  My jaw dropped, and I sulked back to my desk as I pondered the validity and significance of her statement.

There are so many people in other nations that are longing to learn the English language because of what it represents to them and the world.  Some of them believe that the language signifies power and prestige.  I cannot begin to count the numbers of ways that this is ironic, but I’ll let you do that.  Did you know that there is a multitude of Japanese and Korean singers and groups whose names and/or song titles are in English?  Did you also know that a chunk of their songs are in English or have English lyrics?  I have several Japanese and Korean songs on my ipod and 100% of them have English lyrics, a song title in English and/or a band name in English.  Language is used as a means to build the three Cs: Communication, Community and Connection.  Shouldn’t it be the same for us?

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Posted on June 28, 2013, in Education, Kingdom of the Sun, Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Very true. I’m in Spain sometimes because my partner is from there. I’m a neuroscientist, and during my visits to Spain, I’ve gotten to know a neuroscientist there who works in my area of research. He said that years ago his mentor told him that there are 2 kinds of Spanish scientists: those who know English and those who don’t. He was referring to the huge advantages for a Spanish scientist who speaks English. Nearly all of the major scientific journals are in English, and so it’s difficult to publish your research results if your English isn’t perfect. It made me feel bad to hear this.

    (Studying Spanish is one of my favorite things to do these days).

    • Very interesting! Thanks so much for sharing. I think it’s awesome that you’re taking it upon yourself to learn Spanish. I am trying to teach myself Japanese at the moment…

  2. Learning a new language opens your horizons in so many ways. I only learned French by chance — after marrying a Frenchman and moving to France. I consider myself very fortunate to speak two languages and am humbled by those who are multilingual. We have an unfortunate tendency in our culture to be ‘anglocentric’ — that is, if you speak English, you own the world. But there is so much more to discover. Thanks for an interesting post!

    • Yes, “anglocentric” is a great word to describe that! I desperately want to speak another language, and I hope to learn so some day. Your comment actually got me wondering about how many people who speak one language wish that they could speak another or multiple.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. I’m so glad you managed to catch the movie. Yes, it is sad that we ascribe more respect to people who can speak English, but unfortunately that’s the way of the English speaking world. Language is currency. I find it interesting though that my daughter will be learning Mandarin soon in school, as this happens to be another language of growing importance.

    I also loved the communication between Shashi and Laurent. Beautifully presented. If you want another fantastic example, and perhaps more moving, watch West is West, the sequel to East is East. There is one scene where George’s wives communicate with other for the first time. The acting is superb and basically blew me away. I’d watch that movie again, just for that one scene. So much can be expressed without the need for lexical understanding.

    • “Language is currency”-how interesting! I definitely agree that Mandarin is becoming popular. I like to stick with things that aren’t so “popular,” like learning Japanese, Malayalam, and latin ;).

      Thanks for recommending more movies! Should I watch East is East first or does it not matter?

      • They’re both great movies…a surprisingly accurate view into the lives of British Muslims in the 70s, perhaps. They’re funny and touching and I don’t think you would lose anything from watching them both. What, they hey, yes. watch East is East first!

      • Sounds good, I’ll try to find them. Thanks again!

  4. After reading some of your posts, it seems that we have similar interest.
    Thanks for liking my post. Hope to see you again.

  1. Pingback: Language and the Ability to See and Feel | johndwmacdonald

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