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You are as many people as the languages you know

17th September 2020

Carry out an audit of languages spoken in our small Wychwood community or even just in one class, and you will be amazed at the rich diversity of languages that are spoken. Quite a number of Wychwood girls and staff are bilingual and some are multi-lingual!

One of the ‘Thunks’ (‘a beguiling question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks’ – Ian Gilbert) I discussed with the Lower Transits last academic year, was whether they felt like different people when speaking different languages. It is clear that many often did, as languages are embedded within different cultures with different cultural modes of expression. Some said they were even able to express themselves with greater emotion in some languages than others and it was not simply down to familiarity.

Languages offer a window into a new way of seeing the world. And sometimes words that exist in one language have no simple equivalents. The Inuit (eskimo) language for example is often attributed with having at least 50 different words for snow. Learn their language and the way you see snow will never be the same again. Then the Ancient Greek  language has four words for ‘Love’ and in Arabic there are at least eleven. English uses the same  word ‘love’ for love of a child, love of a spouse, love of a friend and love of ice cream. Does it really contain the same meaning in each case? And when in the New Testament of the Bible (written originally in Hellenistic Greek)  Jesus says ‘ Love your enemies’ and ‘Love your neighbour , this is not a command to develop strong and passionate feelings towards them but to do them justice and despite ones often fickle feelings, desire and seek the best for them (agape).

As an RS teacher I always feel it is essential for students to understand that things frequently get lost or changed in translation,  leading to misunderstandings and potentially a whole raft of unintended consequences. It really is important to get back to the original languages in which scriptures were written for example, because errors of translation  can and do create conflict and division.

Lack of language appreciation leads to people talking at cross-purposes and clouds the ability to communicate with clarity. Learning a new language can be a gateway to greater understanding and build bridges between individuals and indeed nations. So this week we will celebrate the European Day of Languages on 26th September and seek to develop more fully our Habit of Mind ‘Thinking and Communicating with clarity’, which has never been more important.

Mrs Crossley

You Are As Many A Person As Languages You Know