Don’t try so hard: Do the minimum for language love

Don't get worried. Just open up and start speaking.
Don’t get worried. Just open up and start speaking.

I recently met the inventor of Fetch-a-Phrase, a method of keeping all the key phrases you need for a language in your back pocket. You take basic phrases for you language, correlate the words from one language to the other, and then use the correlations to build new sentences.

You don’t have to be great at languages. You just have to care. You don’t have to be fluent in a language. You just have to try. You don’t need to understand everything. You just have to say something. You don’t have to impress anyone. You just have to do something for someone else.

Lower the bar. Perfection is not the friend of language-love.
Why loving language

Language hacking ≠ language love

How will you hack your language to help others?
How will you hack your language to help others?

When I first saw Benny the Irish Polyglot’s TEDx talk, I was inspired. Here was a guy who suffered through language-learning in school with no success. Then one day he decided to just start learning on his own in his own way, and he made huge strides. Not only did he discover that he could learn languages, but he loved learning them. He “hacked” the language-learning process.
He created a very successful blog and YouTube channel. You get to see him struggling through the language-learning process as he has conversations with young folks all over the world. You follow his life in great locations like China and Brazil.

Living the dream, he inspired others. Lots of other young folks like him wanted to go live in exotic locations and hang out with cool local people and learn languages in the process. Other YouTube channels were generated.

Aspiring digital nomads (compulsive travelers whose work happens completely on the internet) got on the bandwagon. They wanted to go to exotic locations. Whether their internet connection comes in Bankok, Brasilia, or Barcelona, they could live anywhere—and learn the local language.

The digital nomads became the digital colonists. They came to take advantage of cheap rent—sometimes pricing locals out of whole neighborhoods—and “exoticness” for their own excitement. Rather than try to become part of a local community, they stay until the place is less exciting and then follow their Wanderlust.

Rather than inspire people to become more moral human beings, Benny’s “language hacking” gave people the tools to exploit more people in more countries—and have fun doing it.

It inspired selfishness. Not love.
Why loving language

Sacrifice your talent for love

Do you have what it takes for language love?
Do you have what it takes for language love?

Don’t follow your love in order to feel good. Follow it so someone else can feel good. Let your talent become a lesson for love. When you learn languages for others, you do what comes naturally to you and bring joy to others.

My wife is a great musician. She has traveled the world in choirs, both as a singer and as a piano accompanist. At her height she sang at Carnegie Hall.

She can play anything. She can accompany anyone. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t think about music.

Eventually, she became a mom—a great mom. Naturally, she taught our kids piano. She also taught private piano lessons at our house to over a dozen kids per week.

Music was not about personal joy to her, however. She played for those who needed more joy in their lives.

Every week, she took our kids and any other kids to a nursing home. Our kids would play whatever they were working on. My wife would play, too, and lead songs for the residents of the nursing home. They came so often that the kids began to develop special relationships with some of the individual residents.

Three times a year, my wife’s students would put on a recital. Each time, it took place in a retirement center. Granted, the center had a great room with a nice piano, but she would coordinate with the center to ensure that all residents were notified and invited to the recital. Kids would even wheel residents unable to walk to the recital.

Who can you bring joy to with your desire to learn languages?

Why loving language

Be a hero: Cross over with language love

If we listen to each other, we can learn languages!
If we listen to each other, we can learn languages!

Imagine a high school cafeteria. Groups of boys and girls sit together, in small and large groups or by themselves. Certain tables are loud, others, quiet. Loners are silent. At each one, certain topics or mannerisms come up regularly that lend a table its identity: the loud table, the Goth table, the Latino table.

One table’s members might turn their noses up at another table. The members of another table might envy another table, wishing they could sit there instead of where they are at.

When we see this scenario in movies, you know who the hero is? The one from the popular table, who goes to sit at another table, even with a loner. That person cares more about people than about being popular, connections rather than personal gain, doing the right thing rather than the opinion of popular kids.

We may not be in high school, but these groupings still exist. They are the cultures and language groups we work and shop with.

Out in your daily life, you can be like this hero. Learn languages. You can cross over, outside of your group to connect with others. As I’ve been saying for the past few weeks:

I believe that we all should put ourselves out there to love. More specifically, we need to sacrifice for one another, especially for those in need.
Why loving language

Giving up privilege with language-love

I have always found it nice to meet Somalis.
I have always found it nice to meet Somalis.

I want to connect to the margins. In some ways, it’s where I feel comfortable. I lived a lot at the margins. I know what it’s like. In multiple countries, I did not live in an expat community, but immersed myself among locals only in places as diverse as Morocco, post-Soviet Ukraine, and France. At my university, I was a minority Gentile among a majority Jewish population, who taught me about life as a marginalized community.

At the same time, I could never live completely in the margins. I’m an upper-middle-class, English-speaking, graduate-degree-holding, straight white American. We have a lot of privilege. As I was told in Ukraine when I expressed my deep understanding of people in the margin, “It’s different. You can always leave.”

When I say that we need to sacrifice for the margin, I speak as someone who tries to express my appreciation of the marginalized, though any marginalization I ever experienced was temporary.

I can’t avoid my privilege. It’s part of who I am. It’s not evil and it’s not good. The way I use it defines it as good or evil. Previously (here and here) I spoke of my “why” for what I do and write:

I believe that we all should put ourselves out there to love. More specifically, we need to sacrifice for one another, especially for those in need.

We must sacrifice that privilege for the sake of those without.
Why loving language

You love languages, don’t you?

Your brain was built to connect and communicate
Your brain was built to connect and communicate

Based on my post last week, I’ve been thinking of all the things I have done, do, and would like to do, and how they are rooted in the “why” that I laid out.

My inner circle, my “why” was this:

I believe that we all should put ourselves out there to love. More specifically, we need to sacrifice for one another, especially for those in need.

Let me elaborate. All my language activities now and in the future emerge from this single principle. I think you’ll love languages even more than you do if you read more.
Why loving language

Why are you learning languages? Is it love?

Why learn languages?
Why learn languages?

In Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk, “How great leaders inspire action”, he posits that great ideas begin not with the “What,” but with the “Why” and then the “How.” That is, every company produces a “what,” but not all delve into the more profound areas of why and how they produce what they do. I’ve learned a lot from this presentation in how to examine what I love doing and what motivates me to keep on going.

Language means everything to me, but so does service to others. In this blog I’ve been trying for many years to express why love and deep connection with others motivates my language-learning.

Now I’m going to lay out why love lies at the center of my learning languages.

I believe that we all should put ourselves out there to love. More specifically, we need to sacrifice for one another, especially for those in need.
Why loving language

True language love is in the margins

But as much as this has been an exploration of the history of language in the United States, it has also turned out to be an examination of prejudice and privilege…. [American history] is genocide and slavery and discrimination
Elizabeth Little, Trip of the Tongue (p. 252).

Learn a language and push against the power of privilege
Learn a language and push against the power of privilege

The history of language follows the ebbs and flows of one form of communication to another. It seems that human beings, born in the right circumstances, can switch from one language to another without much effort. One group spoke Hebrew, then Babylonian, then Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Arabic. Generation after generation, language blends into language.

Languages don’t just ebb and flow like tides of the ocean. They fight, kill, dominate, and oppress, like warring chimpanzees. Hebrew speakers sent the Canaanites to the hills, before being conquered by Babylonians, and then the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. Each power came and imposed a language of privilege onto the next group. No language disappeared without a fight.
Fight for the marginalized

Becoming our betters selves through love and language

Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?
Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?

We are missing out on a learning opportunity as a society. Rather than encourage the perpetuation, growth, and exchange of language, fear drives out languages. Building walls to keep out foreign others takes precedence over listening to new voices that may know more than us. Forcing them, in spite of their past and present struggles, to talk to us in our language insults and degrades them and us.

Alternatively, we could learn the languages around us, and put our resources and our prestige behind teaching these languages to our children. Let my children speak to their friends’ parents in their language, while their friend speaks to me in mine—or teaches me hers. Learning the stories that come from “the old country” holds a mirror up to our society, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly, for us to celebrate, to correct, or to apologize for.
What are we missing?

Keeping Basque speakers—and making more

Txili Lauzarika, my Euskara teacher for the morning
Txili Lauzarika, my Euskara teacher for the morning

After the Basque class this summer, I had an opportunity to speak with the teacher, Txili Lauzirika. He is a native speaker of Euskara (Basque), with a passion for the language. A teacher and poet by profession, and a sociologist by training, he offered me important insights into the survival of Euskara up to the present, as well as its continued existence into the future.

Because his training was in sociology and not history, he presented me some counter-narratives to the ones we normally hear about Euskara. They offer hope to the future existence of this minority language if we follow some of the basic principles that he noticed.
Survival of Euskara