Do you speak English?

This is one of the first phrases you learn in English or any other language you are trying to master. It is widely accepted that learning a foreign language gives you a number of advantages, from getting to know a new culture and making friends abroad, to getting a new professional skill and becoming more in-demand in the ever-changing world. I would call all these instrumental benefits, as each of them is related to a specific area: culture, communication, professional development, job market, etc. However, there is another great yet underestimated plus in speaking a language different from you mother tongue. I would call this a metaphysical advantage, that is the one related to the world outlook and worldview.

The main idea is that any language is not just a communication bridge. It is a door to another people’s mentality and world description. Linguists confirm that every language is a reflection of the world view of those who speak it.  And this is not only about every-day practical (material) things known as language realities. For example, such as kolkhoz, borhch, sarafan in Russian, rancho, cowboy, Yankee in American English, samurai, kimono, harakiri in Japanese, and so on and so forth. Language realities reflect things of the material culture only. More than than, each language entails a unique way of perception and interpretation of the outside world. In other words, we can speak about language world views that derive from national mentalities.

To give a quick example, in Russian goose (a type of bird) is associated with self-important and roguish people, in English it is associated with richness and silliness. Compare “important goose” in Russian and “the goose that lays the golden eggs” or “as sіlly as a goose” in English.

Another difference in the language world views is displayed in the attitude towards home. The English say: “An Englіshman’s home іs hіs castle.” This phrase not only reflects the English attitude towards property, but also the people’s life philosophy and national character. In contrast, Russian dom can both denote English ‘house’ as building, but also ‘home’ as a hearth or domicile. In other words, the concept behind the Russian word ‘dom’ is wider in its meaning and usage than the English house.

The examples above demonstrate a well-known principle of evaluating your foreign language skills: you become a true language-speaker once you start thinking the language.

To make a conclusion, a well-known Ukrainian poet, translator and academician Maksym Rylsky once said: “The more language you know, the more times you are a man.” One does not not need to be a polyglot at all. However, adding another language to our portfolios will definitely broaden our horizons. Also, however paradoxical it may be, it will help us see that there is much more in common between different nations that it may seem.


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