Back in the 90’s when I was in my twenties, I took a number of trips around the world starting from my native Greece and ending up as far away as South America. My first trip was to England, then Italy and Russia. In the years that followed I visited Spain, Sweden, Algeria, Brazil and Argentina among others. As diverse as those places were, there was one thing I could always count on: I could communicate with people everywhere I went due to the fact that I spoke several major languages: English, Spanish, Italian and German.
A good ten years later, living in Los Angeles and struggling to raise bilingual children, it becomes more and more clear to me that it is essential to speak more than one languages. Besides the obvious advantages, like being able to communicate in my travels, getting better-paid jobs, or, as is the case lately, earning my living as a translator, it seems to me there is a far more compelling reason: speaking, reading and writing in different languages has enabled me to feel more like a citizen of the world.
I believe that I am who I am today, at least partially, because I studied languages. If I traveled, if I became friends with people from all over the world, if I ended up living in the country of my choice, it is because I learned to speak languages. Because frontiers didn’t mean as much to me anymore. Because I saw similarities where others saw only differences.
Yes, I believe that we should learn languages and encourage our children to do the same. Language is a fruitful alliance. The more we know about words, the more we learn to exorcise stereotypes. The more words we know, the more precise we become in our expressing our thoughts.
More than once I found myself in far away countries that taught me that fear of the unknown is fear of life. Speaking different languages allowed me to be everyone’s fellow citizen. A friend, a relative, someone you’d want to have a conversation with over a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a backgammon set, rather than a tourist.
In my effort to raise my children to be bilingual, my main goal is to show them how to become citizens of the world, to care about what goes on, to belong to what they believe is worth belonging to.
Language is universal and so are we. Locking ourselves inside the synthetic walls of our houses, towns, countries, languages, only getting glimpses of what takes place in the rest of the world, can only take us so far as an intelligent species.
This is what I believe.
Eso es lo que creo.
Das glaube ich.
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