What do you know? Languages help you understand terrorism

I’ve recently been on vacation in Spain. I went to enjoy myself and learn more about the Basque language and culture. Because of the attacks of July 14, in Nice, France, I learned about my own society in the US.

On a Spanish train, I was handed a Spanish newspaper, El Pais, which is well-known and mainstream there. On page 2 I read an editorial that ended,

With every terrorist act we re-make the war, militarize our democracies, prolong fear, and lose our identity little by little.[1]

Right below that, I read another with the conclusion,

For the moment, by anti-anxiety means, the French are resisting. But war isn’t going to stop. And every day, more war, fear, and the danger of desperation grows. There the ultra-right Front National party lurks, to regain the votes of those who want quick solutions.[2]

I never read anything so tough in the US mainstream press. The call for calm and anti-violence astounded me. It reminded me that learning another language is a political act, because it disrupts the point of view that my country, society, and community repeat to themselves and to me.
My education

Week 23 of Loving Somali: Have more fun!

Don't overanalyze...have some fun!
Don’t overanalyze…have some fun!

I tend to be pretty “thinky.” Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I can analyze a situation to the smallest detail until someone makes me stop. At the same time, I tend to overlook or even downplay the important emotional experience in the moment. I have friends who are very empathetic, who are always picking up on the emotions of the room. I’ve learned a lot from these friends about a blind spot of mine.

While this week I didn’t get a lot more done on Somali than usual, I had more fun. A less thinky week. I read aloud my dialogue and I turned to some news sites. I also found some new resources that got me excited. I want to experience fully the excitement, wonder, and discovery of this week, even though I may not speak great Somali compared to last week. I made new connections and enjoyed bursts of delight. Continue reading “Week 23 of Loving Somali: Have more fun!”

Learn Languages for a Different Take on the News

English: A protester holding a placard in Tahr...
Image via Wikipedia

I heard recently that a foreign affairs analyst can learn everything she needs by talking to people on the street.  She does not need spy satellites or phone taps.  She can talk to the people on the street.

Much of our English news comes from English reporters speaking with English-speakers in countries where English may not be known broadly.  The native filters his knowledge and thinking through English, which the reporter then filters again.  Our knowledge is two steps removed from the people on the street who normally speak and reflect in a medium other than English.

If I get tired of how the US media report on foreign affairs, there is always another medium: the foreign media.  I do not mean the BBC.  I mean the local news, where the reporters think and converses in the same language as the subjects of their stories, where they live within the same dynamic as the subjects.

One reason I like to learn languages is because I can begin to understand what is going on in other countries without the multiple filters on the US news.  I “Liked” Bashar Al-Assad on Facebook so that I get his news feed.  I often get lyrical, militant posts, or Youtube videos of nationalist songs.  I did the same with Sarkozy, and I get to see on my Facebook feed political rhetoric in French (which sounds suprisingly similar to American political rhetoric).

I can learn much more about my world that my media can’t convey.  I can circumvent the media–how political!