Language as The Sixth Sense

2 mins 39 secs

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❝The limits of my language are the limits of my world.❞
‒Ludwig Wittgenstein

We experience the world through our five senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, but what if I told you that we indeed can develop another sense? You would say to yourself, “ he must be joking right?”

Well, no. I am serious; when I say language as the sixth sense, I don’t mean it in that sense, (no pun intended). What I mean is that language can help us hone our senses by sharpening our perception. How can this be possible?
 Well, language shapes the way we relate to ourselves, to others and the world around us. When we learn a new language we are presented with a new set of senses; we acquire new ways of seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and even touching. We experience the world through someone else’s perspective.
 To fully “speak truthfully,” in another language, that is, understanding what we say and why we express things in such a way, and not in another; we are forced to wear cultural sunglasses, i.e. adopt a new worldview. When we do this we learn new ways of making sense of reality, and quite often, the vocabulary in our native language grows by leaps thanks to the new perspectives brought forth by the new language we are learning.
 One of the reasons why at first, we do not understand anything or just one or two words from a sentence, when we first hear it, is because our senses are not sharp enough to receive the new information. Hasn’t it happened to you that when you listen to a song for the nth time, you finally get that one word that had eluded you since forever?
 Or once you know what a “weird” word means, and by weird, I mean that it does not have a shared root with your native language or Latin, it ceases to be weird because now your brain has something to pair it down with and thus can make sense of it.
 Jared Diamond illustrates this in his book, “Guns, Germs and Steel” when he says that native Americans could not at first “see” the Spanish ships because they had never seen them before. It was once the Shaman described the ships to them that the rest of the people were able to see them.
 To me, a foreign language is that Shaman, who broadens our horizons and allows us to see and experience what others cannot.
 Let’s take something we do every day to illustrate my point further: Looking things up: asking Mr. Google and getting lost in Wikipedia.
 When you do a Google search, if you can read English you are in luck, because most of the Internet “speaks” English, but there are sometimes in which a second or a third language come in handy. Let’s say you are Interested in wine, a little French, Italian and Spanish can help you when searching for wine-related terms because those languages, influence the wine universe profoundly.
 Wikipedia is this incredible fountain of knowledge, and it is dandy because 98% of the time you find what you are looking for in English. But there is that 2%, sometimes the only articles you can get your hands on are not in English or the English version is not as detailed as the one in the original language.
 So, in this era in which information is gold, having access to more details or getting closer to the source can mean having a competitive edge over other people who just speak one language.

Even if I did not convince you, I think that if you read that yesterday, I wore a mauve shirt to work instead of just “plain” purple, all of sudden my chic level goes up, right?

What do you think? Can knowing a foreign language give you an advantage in life or business? If so which one? Leave a comment below!

Originally published at The Language Monk