The value of language tourism

“Challenging ideas  is impossible without bilingually stepping into the realm of a language novel to oneself.”

Language acquisition is considered to be a highly dignified and respected goal worldwide, whatever the language might be. The learner is considered to be a successful person with an admired character because of the strength of her intelligence and the hard work involved in learning a second (or third, or fourth) language.

However my perception, as an Arab Open University graduate from the discipline of English literature, is that most people fail to realize how wonderful it is to tour different types of civilizations through language – without the filters of your native language’s dogmatic traditional conformities, challenging ideas  is impossible without bilingually stepping into the realm of a language novel to oneself.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to experience such invisible dimensions via the confines of a single language conversation. Therefore, to the best of my ability, I will attempt to bring the reader closer to the marvelous experience of “cognitive tourism”.

In my previous article, ‘Bridging Minds’, published in Kuwait Times in 2016, I technically explained how a language’s grammar yarns a person’s chain of thought. And what I felt missing was stress on the quality and quantity of vocabulary, because words are actually the only rings of anyone’s chain of thought. Case in point, a language will ultimately paint our scope of life and even manipulate how more or less we get to zoom in and out of this narrow scope of ours.
Layers of meaning

Therefore, it is unquestionably logical to say that this is the best way to absorb the nectar of all the “orientational juice” of any society. In other words, each society enjoys its puns and layers of meaning for phrases that are impossible to extract clearly for non-speakers of that language.

Sociocultural complications are too sophisticated for even university professors’ strategies, such as Prof Raphael, who refuses to believe that all languages in the world share a parallel vocabulary, and that a translator ought to syntactically explain a source language’s sentence to the target language. Yet, being a bilingual person and a level 2 Turkish student, and an amateur in Farsi, I deny the possibility of languages mincing syntactically.

Irkcigili yok et, panda gibi ol, o siyah, o beyaz, o Asyali! – this was a translation of a hilarious American joke from English to Turkish that always fails to win a giggle from all the Turks I share it with. It means, “Be a panda! It’s black. It’s white. It’s Asian!” In Turkey, it is not racist to refer to anyone’s origins, but in Western countries, it seems to give an impression that one of the interlocutors is about to make a racist remark. In translating that very simple joke, the crucial element of anticipation was lost, and yet it is worse when translated to Arabic, because Chinese stereotypes are irrelevant in all of Arabia, unlike the United States.

I ought to clarify that the punch line did not contain any form of insult to any Asians, but it completely debunked the intelligence of the two-colored creature. The punch line defeated the whole purpose of that intelligent metaphor, and this style of comedy is not popular in “Turk Komik”.

Crossing the language barrier
How is it possible to achieve such a goal? It is safe to say that any attempt of verbal communication between two individuals from different cultural and linguistic heritages carries different types of ideas and emotions that are all attainable via crossing the language barrier. And the only way to not miss any of these “outside the box” ideas and emotions is to learn these fellow human beings’ languages, and to accept the sad reality of the limitations of translation.

Linguistic tourism
Yet, on the bright side, all the cultural puns and deep concepts can only be packaged and safely stored within the language itself, meaning that this cognitive tourism is not simply a gateway into experiencing others’ chains of thought from the starting point in which a learner has entered, but a reception of a society’s total collective conscious! This is what made me call both my Turkish and English language acquisition a mental tour.

Any inquisitive reader is surely intrigued to learn the perfect way to become bilingual or multilingual.
Seeking to find the answer is similar to a plunge into an infinite abyss. Ironically, a plunge into the randomness of awkward conversational projects with native speakers and/or with your teacher and fellow learners is the only way to have a fortified “word bank” and sound grammatical skills for your desired language.

Passion and sheer fortitude are the only requirements needed. Stitches and shreds of letters and words will be automatically bricolage-d by the unconscious, ensuring a newly yarned brain. In conclusion, cognitive tourism is the sincerest form of humanism.

By Jeri Al-Jeri

This article was published on 16/02/2017