The biggest struggles language-lovers face: Solved!

Let's overcome the struggle together!
Let’s overcome the struggle together!

I need your help. I’m to solve some of these, the most difficult questions any language-lover has encountered.

Are you learning to speak a language? What do you do if you have the following problems?
Solutions

Looking for differences: Polyglots have a solution

There are a billion people in China. A BILLION people! That means that if you’re a one-in-a-million guy, there are a thousand people just like you.
Jerry Seinfeld

Don't always get stuck with people just like you!
Don’t always get stuck with people just like you!

Now that everyone can meet anyone they want, we can fall more easily into a group of people who think just like us. Through the internet and global mobility, people can meet anyone of any background or any point of view from any country. We have a giant pool to draw from. Liberal Muslims in Baghdad can discuss with liberal Christians in Seattle. Hindu nationalists can find sympathetic minds among anti-Muslim Nigerians.

This ability is morally neutral. For the isolated queer kid in a small town, connecting with someone of like mind can literally save their life. At the same time, Daesh can recruit among disaffected youth anywhere in the world.

Either way, our ability to live in an echo-chamber increases exponentially year by year as it’s easier to find people just like us.

Our opportunities to hear challenging or opposing views simultaneously becomes more and more difficult as we surround ourselves with people we agree with. This happens in spite of how easy it is to find opposing views.

As humans, though, we prefer to surround ourselves with people similar to us.

Polyglots, however, tend to surround themselves with people different from them. In order to learn languages, they have to find people from somewhere else, with different assumptions and world views.
Calling all polyglots!

Language love and reaching the Other

Who will you reach out to?
Who will you reach out to?

I read the 2016 US presidential election results this morning. After all these months of campaigning, one thing became clear in my mind: both sides failed.

In my mind, both sides failed because no one wanted to speak to the other side. Neighbors won’t talk to each other to even out differing opinions. Instead, self-created opinion bubble exist where its participants all believe they’re right.

This blog exists because I believe in connection. I believe in working to unite people who normally can’t understand each other.

We have a duty to reach out to the Other. We reach out to them because we must, not because we want to. I’m not sentimental at heart.

We are language-learners, and we have a duty to reach out to the Other in the way that we are able. Many of us, though, do not do our duty. We serve ourselves. On the one hand, it feels good to learn a language that is fun, whose culture appeals to us. On the other hand, we can learn the languages of those who live in our community.
Our duty to the Other

Ecolinguism: Languages are wealth

There is a way to avoid responsibility and/or guilt by, precisely, emphasizing one’s responsibility or too readily assuming one’s guilt in an exaggerated way, as in the case of the white male PC academic who emphasizes the guilt of racist phallogocentrism, and uses this admission of guilt as a stratagem not to face the way he, as a ‘radical’ intellectual, perfectly embodies the existing power relations towards which he pretends to be thoroughly critical.
Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute, p. 46

Can ecolinguism really undermine privilege?
Can ecolinguism really undermine privilege?

Ecolinguism sounds like a PC scheme to assuage a white, upper middle-class, American man’s guilt. I’ve claimed that ecolinguism can help combat rich, Western privilege. Can my dedication to minority languages really disrupt the power dynamic, or is just a different mode of the typical white privilege that PC liberals rail against?

People probably got upset with me because I sounded just like the academic that Žižek describes. I just replaced phallogocentrism with Anglocentrism, and instead of racism I discussed the desire for the exotic other. But maybe I emphasized my responsibility and assumed my guilt in an exaggerated way.

The first step I took was to admit my role in the system. I have privilege. But is it really this simple?
Be an ecolinguist

The Prime Directive of language love

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” —Jean-Luc Picard

Who really benefits when we go exploring new lands and civilizations?
Who really benefits when we go exploring new lands and civilizations?

For the Star Trek universe, this directive refers to technology. Why do so many agree with it? Because we see that a huge technology differential hurts the civilization who possesses less technology.

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” —Prof. Steven Hawking

Not based on science-fiction but on history, Dr. Hawking believes that the differential between us and aliens who might contact us would likely destroy us.

Why are people concerned about this difference in technology? Because technology is power, and a huge power differential will destroy the weak.

Nevertheless, the Enterprise continued to boldly go where no man had gone before. Dr. Hawking, in contrast, suggests we avoid aliens. The two differ because the United Federation of Planets assumed that it was more powerful than other civilizations, while Dr. Hawking fears that aliens could clobber us—even by accident.

I’ve recently frustrated some of my readers in comparing language-study as colonial and exploitative. I want to look more deeply here at the situations that bring these traits to the fore.

Power differences can result in unintended consequences. Does loving language threaten others or mediate that threat?
Loving language

Selfish acts of tourism: Languages at home and abroad

What are you doing, O Polyglot, to make sure you're not this guy?
What are YOU doing, O Polyglot, to make sure you’re not this guy?

Bequeathing a good community for my children to live in is my highest priority. More basically, being good means nothing if I’m not doing good. So if I’m spending time, money, or energy on something besides my community, I’m obliged to question it.

I’m a language guy, so I spend a lot of time and energy on languages. If I’m following this assumption, then I should be studying languages for the sake of my community.

Choosing a language, therefore, must also build up my community.

Community, not the “exotic” or “new,” must motivate me. How do I study and acquire languages to build up others, rather than myself?

If traveling runs the risk of exploiting people, even a little, I’d rather stay at home and build up my community.
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

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

How do you teach adults a foreign language?

Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain--the school I visited
Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain–the school I visited

Ever since I planned on going to the North of Spain, to the Basque Country, aka Euskal Herria, I was on the lookout for where I could learn more of the local language, Euskara.

Euskara is a language unique to the North of Spain and Southwest of France, unrelated to any other language (though many theories exist regarding its unlikely relationship to other languages). For more information about the language itself, I would direct you to its Wikipedia page. I will focus here on my own experiences with the language.

When I went to the North of Spain in July, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class of Basque for adults at the Lauaxeta Euskaltegia in Getxo, Spain. This school offers classes to locals who want to become better at this language. They offer various levels of courses, and I sat in on the basic class.
What I learned