Language and True Understanding

Growing up as the child of immigrants, I have always had a level of bilingualism simply from the necessity of having to perform well in the American public school system and wanting to communicate with my parents and extended family. While I have definitely lost some level of competency over the years and am now desperately working towards rediscovering my latent fluency, being able to speak and read and write in more than one language has always been a point of pride and identifier for me. It is a skill sure, yet it has also been a marker of who I am and my story. It is also admittedly kind of cool to be able to say you are a polyglot. Really makes people do a pause.

Beyond these fun points, the primary reason for my interest in language acquisition comes down to the same reason for most other choices: story. We live in an incredible moment as far as storytelling goes. Yes, there are obvious concerns and negatives, but there are more stories being told in various mediums from virtually every corner of the world that we can access with only some difficulty. Truly, I can watch foreign movies and television shows on every single streaming service I subscribe to. I can find copies of books and poetry translated into my native tongues for almost every major tome published. I can access music from nearly every continent. And there are various tools and people and systems working to make these pieces of media more easily accessible and digestible for other to enjoy. Frankly, it is an unprecedented age of media. Even so, a lot gets lost in translation.

Ignoring the questionable movie starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, there really is quite a bit lost of a story or concept when translated from language to language. First off, there will never be a “perfect translation” because no language is exactly the same even within itself. Just look at English. Moving past the major two branches of British and American, each primarily English speaking nation has its own quirks and wordings within itself. There are different ways of expression and speaking depending on which geographical region of the United States of America you happen to come from. Although there is obvious understanding, there are still dialectic differences between the regional lexicons that would impact the manner of stories and how these stories are told, received, and perceived. So, of course, there are vast degrees of difference between a translated story and the original regardless of how much time and care was taken in the creation of the translation.

Hells, even elements as simple as cadence and meter and tone will shift drastically depending on the language used to state something. Accordingly, except for being a native speaker with full cultural comprehension, nothing really compares to being able to engage with texts and songs and visuals and works in their original language. Unsurprisingly, my answer to what language I would want to learn is the one that opens up a new world of stories; thus; as many as I can.

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