Trees are a fascinating way to show relationships between languages. Minna Sundberg, a Finnish illustrator, used a tree very effectively to show how major European and many Eastern languages can be grouped into families. The whole image is dotted with languages, with bigger leaves representing those with the most native speakers. If you look at the whole tree you can see, for example, how English has Germanic roots. And surprisingly (to me), Finnish does not come from the same branch as Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. Rather, Finnish belongs to the Uralic language family and shares roots with some indigenous tongues in Scandinavia such as Sami.
We recently watched the 2016 movie Arrival, which critics are calling one of the best science fiction movies in decades. We enjoyed it as a film that tries to envision how our planet’s politics might play into first contact with alien visitors. We also liked how the movie focused on how language intersects with culture. As regional coordinators for EF High School Exchange Year, a high school student exchange program placing 2,500+ students in the U.S. every year, we work all year long with students from around the world who are trying to understand our culture and speak our language. We know that to understand one, you need to understand the other.
We express our culture through language, and our language defines how we interact with our world. It’s hard to separate one from the other, or to determine “which came first?” Learning another language is not just about learning the words for “person,” “table,” and “animal.” Arrival shows us the truth of this statement. In the movie, linguist Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) works to translate words and concepts so that humans and the aliens can talk to each other. As she struggles to learn the aliens’ language, she realizes that the key is that the aliens view time very differently than we do. This view of the universe winds its way throughout the aliens’ language. The way they express time enables them to see pieces of the future; as Louise learns the language, she learns the culture — and so sees her own future.
Fantastical, beyond our reality, and make-believe — yes. It is, after all, a fictional story about meeting aliens from another world. But is it really so fantastical to think that people from different cultures will view abstract concepts such as time, place, and distance differently? In a way, Arrival describes the reality of language and culture on our own planet. It’s about viewing the entire universe the way the other person views it and realizing that this changes how you view your own universe.
Viewing time differently isn’t as fantastical as you might think. Some cultures (and, therefore, some languages) express time as a means of looking to the future — “future-in-front” languages as linguist Panos Athanasopoulos discusses in this article. Native English speakers visualize the future as being ahead of us and the past as behind us, already done and gone. But not all cultures on Earth look at time that way, as Athanasopoulos describes:
[F]or speakers of Aymara (spoken in Peru), looking ahead means looking at the past. The word for future (qhipuru) means “behind time” – so the spatial axis is reversed: the future is behind, the past is ahead. The logic in Aymara appears to be this: we can’t look into the future just like we can’t see behind us. The past is already known to us, we can see it just like anything else that appears in our field of vision, in front of us.
The study conducted by Athanasopoulos and colleagues implies that the language we speak will affect whether we believe that time is passing slower or faster. He submits that bilingual people “go between these different ways of estimating time effortlessly and unconsciously.” I find the idea fascinating — that one can go between such different world views just by speaking another language. He also argues that going back and forth between different languages regularly “confers advantages on the ability to learn and multitask, and even long term benefits for mental well-being.” I like that idea, but I’ll leave that for others to debate.
What I want to leave readers with today is just this, whether you are the host family trying to understand the student in your home, the student trying to learn how to be part of a new environment, the teacher trying to help, or the parent back home watching your child from afar. If you really work at not just translating word by word but rather try to see the why and how of another language, you will come to view your own universe differently. That might be a bit unsettling … but it’s exciting, too. Moreover, seeing how the ‘other’ really thinks can only be positive in establishing friendships and long-term relationships. That seems like a good idea to me.
I love infographics….This one covers a wide range of sub-topics under the general heading of “raising your child in today’s global world.” It includes data on the increase in cross-border trade; companies expecting employees to work abroad; and interest of young people today in working abroad. It raises briefly issues such as:
* How do you learn how to think about global problems?
* How can you be prepared to be successful anywhere?
* How can you learn how to be a problem-solver, not just a repository of data and statistics?
We’re pleased to announce that one of our blog posts has been published this week on Midlife Boulevard, an online magazine focusing on the lives of women over 40. Managing partners Sharon Greenthal and Anne Parris publish a variety of voices ranging from the deeply serious to laugh-out-loud humorous. We’re honored that this week we are one of those voices!
Studying abroad is a dream of any student. New country, new friends, new people! But are there some things you might regret about studying abroad? I have interviewed students who have studied abroad and asked them what they think about studying abroad now. They shared their experience and told me what they regret the most. If you plan to study abroad, learn from their mistakes and return from your trip satisfied and full of new experiences!
Regret #1:I should have done it earlier
Almost all students told me that they regret about the time they’ve lost. They felt that if they had known that studying abroad would reveal such opportunities, they would have decided to make the trip earlier. They learned that going abroad is an effective way of going outside one’s comfort zone to find those opportunities and learn about one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It has additional benefits: a student not only learns about a new environment, but also has a unique chance to understand the essence of one’s life and find out how to deal with problems in a new and unfamiliar setting.
Regret #2: I made no friends
When students do a study abroad program, they might think that they do not need friends to feel comfortable. You can chat with your friends from home, after all. But not paying attention to new people who are around you is a gross mistake. Meet new people when you are abroad! An additional suggestion that applies to college level students is to take classes with local students, not just with students from your own country. If you study in an international class, you have more opportunities to discover different cultures and find out how people from different countries live.
Many students think that a short-term exchange or study abroad program is not long enough to find friends. But when you go abroad you find out a strange thing: it seems that time slows down. Routine is no longer a part of your life. You can start to spend time with other students and continue your communication using social networks. Today everyone has access to the Internet, so you can stay connected as long as you want.
Regret #3: I didn’t study the language
For some study abroad students, it will be necessary to know the host language ahead of time. For some college level students, however, it is possible to go to your host country and take classes in your own language. Most of the students I interviewed felt this was a mistake. Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to master a foreign language. When you go to your host country with at least basic knowledge of the language, you will feel more comfortable.
Regret #4: I regret I didn’t travel more
Some study abroad students will have time and opportunity to travel.. College level students should try to use weekends to go to some other city, go to museums, and visit main attractions in the city or town where you live. High school students should travel with their host family if it is at all possible; if it isn’t, see if your exchange program has opportunities you can take advantage of.
Regret #5: I wish I could have stayed longer
No one told me that he wished he had gone home sooner. Everyone would like to study abroad for a longer time. If you have such an opportunity and can afford it, use it. You will change your attitude to studying, your feelings about yourself, and learn more about the way you should live your life. You will grow as a person. Widen your horizons with the opportunities life gives you!
Sophia Clark is a creative writer from New York who loves to share her thoughts with readers. In her free time, she enjoys writing fiction as well as reading it. Her big dream is to publish a novel one day. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.