Language is Social

It feels as if it’s been forever since I posted last. I hope all of you who have summer vacation are enjoying some relaxation in whatever way that pleases you. Anyway, my topic this time is about language as a social experience.

By definition, language is a communicative tool, and for communication to be what it is, there has to be two or more people involved. You have to be involved with other people when speaking a language. You’re never going to get your practical skills down unless you practice with someone else. Besides, humans, by nature, are a gregarious species. We like to be with others of our own kind (most of the time), and we want to get our ideas across to other people as best as we can.

Many of the most basic words in any language have to do with relations with other people and social interactions. For example, take the word, “mother,” or, “mom.” It’s easily one of the most common words that people use in their mother tongues (there’s a reason that term is phrased that way) starting from early childhood. Languages wouldn’t have a word for it if the word didn’t really matter to the people who speak it. Now, let’s take a more complex word: saudade. It’s a word in Portuguese describing an intense feeling of longing or yearning for something that has been lost or has gone away, and usually will not return. Portuguese people use this word primarily in reference to people, because you usually don’t have such an intense feeling in relation to an inanimate object.

Learning a language, therefore, must also be a fundamentally social activity. You can get only so far in learning by yourself, looking up grammar and vocabulary, and talking to yourself. When you learn a language, you should engage someone else in the process. There are three set-ups to this:

1. You and a native speaker (Student to Teacher)

2. You and another person, each speaking (a) language(s) the other wants to learn (Teacher to Teacher)

3.  You and another person, both learning the same language (Student to Student)

So, get out there and learn with someone! There’s always someone out there who’s willing to walk with you on the path to learning a new language!

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sr3934@nyu.edu

I'm a student studying at NYU, hoping to pursue a career in diplomatic services, and I'm obsessed with learning and teaching foreign languages. I like to practice Taekwondo, enjoy Square Enix video games, and engage in Asian-American social activism and international political activism.