Diversity of languages is at the heart of Sustainable Development

Learn languages March 7, 2013

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said : “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”.

Even in our globalised existence, the philosopher’s words ring true. When you can only understand one language, you can only really understand one way of being. To truly grasp other cultures, you need to understand their languages.

At ESL, we believe that learning a language in immersion puts you deep into a culture where it is spoken, so that your learning will go far beyond vocabulary and grammar. When you can speak a language, read the local newspapers, listen to the gossip in a bar, understand the nuances of local humour… then you will really grasp the benefits of learning in immersion. And you will have fun learning with local friends and others from all over the world.

ESL’s Products Director Krister Weidenhielm says “an open world asks for an open culture. It isn’t about building a unique culture. On the contrary, the entire capital made of cultural differences based on our languages is a living ecosystem we have to compose with, a biodiversity we need to protect.”

Language learning requires you to challenge yourself and “think outside the box” – both of which will be central to creating a sustainable future. Furthermore, the human aspect of sustainable development depends on people understanding each other, sharing experiences and ideas.

Without shared language, mutual understanding is hard, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should simply learn a lingua franca such as English, French or Spanish and consider it “job done”. Diversity of languages brings richness. Without it, we can end up with a single way of thinking and history has repeatedly shown the danger of this.

A language represents a history as much as it represents grammar and vocabulary. When a language dies, a part of history risks dying with it. And languages are dying regularly, all over the world.

Native American languages are fading away all across the Americas, Aboriginal languages in Australia are suffering a similar demise; the languages of the colonisers replacing the ancient languages. But language death doesn’t just happen in former colonies. For different reasons, Cornish, Breton and Manx Gaelic are three endangered languages in one small corner of Western Europe. Learning languages gives them longevity.

While the major languages we offer at ESL are under no threat of extinction anytime soon, take a moment to consider the social benefits of learning another language in immersion. Our students regularly tell us when they get back from a study abroad trip that they feel a special bond with the country in which they studied. That’s something that many of our own staff will confirm from their own experiences of studying abroad. With study abroad, you learn much more than a language.

By Will Gathings

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