An accurate accent is powerful because it is the ultimate gesture of empathy. It connects you to another person’s culture in a way that words never can, because you have bent your body as well as your mind to match that person’s culture. Anyone can learn “bawn-JURE” in a few seconds. To learn how bonjour fits into your companion’s mouth and tongue; to learn how to manipulate the muscles, the folds, and even the texture of your throat and lips to match your companion’s—this is an unmistakable, undeniable, and irresistible gesture of care.“Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It “by Gabriel Wyner
I woke up to this quote in one of my regular email newsletters. It was from Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever, which I’ve read some years ago. And it got me thinking… As an adult, I don’t quite remember having a deep love for history or culture, and I don’t remember having a strong emotional attachment to the one (ones?) I grew up in. (Or was it a lack of? I could only remember waking up and building my identity the moment I stepped out of school.)
And now that my kid is in school, I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt over certain cultural things that I myself can’t internalize, therefore cannot teach. I see him just going through the motions, and it makes me wonder when these difficult (for me, at least) questions will start pouring in.
I can’t bring myself to teach him things that don’t mean anything to me. But on the other side of the coin, I want to understand so many things so that I could explain them to him in the best way I could. It’s not just about things that have made my life better, but also things that I want to do without. It’s not just about the what, but it’s more about the how’s and why’s.
Back to the quote. I quite enjoy learning songs in languages I don’t understand. They’re opportunities to listen closely, and make a little music, all while learning about how that language works, and how and why certain people say certain things. And it’s such an adventure. (Also, English isn’t that pretty. Don’t @ me. John McWhorter, a linguist, has also said it. I’m sure many others have said it, too. Listening to words I don’t understand brings my focus on the musicality of the words and the music itself. It’s sometimes a relief for someone like me who can’t help but focus on lyrics.)
I used to think I didn’t care about history or culture, but now I know that’s not true anymore. Language paved the way. (Also Science, but that’s for another post.) It might be a subtle way of caring, but it’s good to know that I’m capable of it, and that it’s at the core of my being.
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