ART BY KAYTE CHIEN
By ADRIAN HERNANDEZ
People can learn about a country’s culture from what they see in a book or the internet, but people seem to always forget the most valuable part of every culture: language.
Language is the foundation of any culture in any place in the world. In essence, a language is a representation of a country’s history and cultural heritage. By learning foreign languages, a person can not only communicate with individuals from different countries but also connect to them on a cultural level. Even in today’s developing world, however, people are not always open to learning foreign languages, which in turn leads to a lack of understanding of other cultures.
Not to say that people should abandon their first language, but gaining a deep understanding of different cultures around the world begins with a willingness to learn a new language.
Nonetheless, most people would think that to learn a new language, they only need a phone translator or personal guide, but to truly understand the language, people also need to learn the culture. Especially in America, one of the biggest melting pots in the world, we need to take the opportunity to embrace the cultural diversity, starting with creating a place of safe multiculturalism. For instance, while people can learn the basics and even complex vocabulary and sentence structure at school, understanding the context and cultural connotation of these words will not occur from school alone. By learning the culture, people can better comprehend the social cues and actions in the language. Inherently, language and culture are intertwined, so if people learn a different country’s language, then it is easier to communicate, form bonds with people and learn the culture.
For instance, my dad has lived in the California for over 20 years, but he still hardly knows any English. Recently, he has made an effort to learn the essential English words, but after 20 years some would expect he would know more. The main reason he does not know much English is that he never took interest in the American culture. Nonetheless, I need to encourage my dad to learn English because it not only helps him live in the U.S., but also allows him to appreciate the foreign culture and get out of his comfort zone.
This itself does not only apply to immigrants, but their children as well. People who are raised in the U.S. embrace the American culture, but often leave some of the culture that their family grew up with behind. Most notably, many American-born children do not understand their family’s native language or forget how to speak it as they grow up.
These younger Americans need to embrace their heritage because it is an important part of their identity. Especially for families that lived in America for over 100 years, they may back at their history and some do not even know what to look for, because as they indulge in the American culture, they often distance themselves from their roots. Yet, we still need to remind ourselves of our cultural origins because even though the U.S. is a giant melting pot, the diverse American culture may only show a notable few aspects of a different culture, narrowing a understanding. Thus, for young Americans, learning their native language is the final hurdle to understand their cultural background.
Overall, people in America who know where their family originated from can look back at their heritage with clarity and appreciation. People only seem to think a culture is only the way of life or food, but that is only the tip of the iceberg for any society. To explore the world beyond the local community, people, no matter where they live, should learn about the cultures and languages around them.