From Mexican walls to the ivory tower: Polyglots smash the echo-chamber

The media doesn’t tell you what to think, but it tells you what to think about.

How can polyglots end people's isolation in their echo chambers?
How can polyglots end people’s isolation in their echo chambers?

We all live in a personal echo-chamber nowadays, where the same assumptions and world views repeat over and over. One’s echo-chamber, however, remains independent of the chambers of others. So their assumptions never reach my ears, and theirs never reach mine. Some of us want to build walls to keep out the Other, and some of us don’t want to venture outside of our walls to listen attentively to the Other.

After we live in this chamber a while, and here our friends echo it, we think that it is the only discourse going on, that our assumptions are naturally shared by all observant, intelligent people like us.

Until we discover how the Other actually thinks.

Polyglots can change the discourse and remind us of the true complexity out there. They’re already listening. They can save our country!
Calling all polyglots!

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

Language learning as a political act (A nod to Rick Steves)

How do others help us see ourselves better?
How do others help us see ourselves better?

Many people around us are invisible. Immigrants and refugees, especially those from developing countries, fill our cities in the US and Europe. They tend to perform simple, undesirable jobs, that do not require sophisticated English language abilities. Many airports in the US are full of East African employees. Spanish often wafts from American suburban construction crews. They live and work unseen by the eyes of native-born Americans.

Hearing languages, seeking out languages, gives us new lenses to see the “invisible” people around us. And from those people, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

Acknowledging everyone around us on their own terms goes against the norm. It is a political act. Many people know Rick Steves, the PBS travel guru, but beyond leading tours to exotic locales, he coined the phrase that travel is a political act. Acknowledging those whom others do not see, and learning from them is our political act as polyglots.
Read about my discovery