Story taken from interview with Karla Piacentini, IEM/MPA, ’17; Written by K.Throgmorton
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language is a bridge that connects people across cultures that engenders an intimate authenticity among language learners. Learning a new language forces you to make mistakes and falter in efforts to gain a better handle on the new language.
In that process, speaking with native speakers is a gateway into their genuine nature and compassion. Karla has experienced this over and over in the various language learning settings she has been a part of. Each time, she gains new insight into the culture of the people she is sharing a conversation with. She has seen how genuine they are in their appreciation and gratitude towards a new person trying to learn their language.
She spent two years living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer and learned Ilonggo. She was rewarded each time she tried to speak and made a mistake; whomever she was speaking with would gently correct her and encourage her to try again. Not all language learning happens in such a supportive way, but in Karla’s experience that is more common than not.
The reason for that, she says, might be because learning a language forces you to go beyond yourself, beyond what makes you feel comfortable. Learning Ilonggo also allowed Karla further insight into the culture of the people around her. She says language is a way to access more than simple communication with others. Language brings with it an understanding of identity, culture, trauma, history, happiness, sacrifice, social capital and lived experiences. Learning to speak another language brings all of those other facets of a person to life. It’s a way to better understand those around you and share parts of your own culture and identity with others. The friends you make along the way are genuine and important.
Language diversity forces you to share cultures and be vulnerable with each other in a way that facilitates close, lasting friendships. When you learn to share a language, you also learn to share a cultural ‘package’ of attributes and understandings.
Growing up in a bilingual household, Karla says cultural identity was always value. It takes a lot to live a life sharing different cultures, but her parents taught her to respect other cultures and value the dynamism of language. Karla says this gave her a great advantage in her life growing up. She was able to study abroad in Mexico while pursuing her undergraduate degree and then moved to Korea to teach English her junior year.
Learning language teaches life skills because it forces you to take chances, make mistakes and push through challenges in pursuit of creating closer connections with people and situations around you. Karla says, “You are your universe, going beyond that makes you a better you.” She is continually trying to find a better self and embrace the unfamiliar and language is one method of doing that.