Knowledge of Languages Is the Doorway to Wisdom

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, it is stated that without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry or savour their songs. We are not different people with separate languages; we are one people, with different tongues.

Most of the world population speaks more than one language but being multilingual is not all it is cut out to be. Is learning a new language easy? How difficult can it be? Can I speak another language in a week? Anyone can do it, right? Wrong! In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”– Ludwig Wittgenstein

My love of languages began somewhere in my teens, along with an obsessive desire to travel the world. It was during those long summer holidays when I was neither a child nor an adult – when going out with friends needed parental permission. I was bored. I thought it would be fun to learn another language, to escape in a world that only existed in books, magazines, and films. I was young, eager, and naïve.

As tempting as it was to be taught by a professional, unfortunately I could not afford the fee. My next best action was to borrow books from the library, and apply myself to learn German, Italian, and Spanish. Bizarrely, I did not appreciate that I was already fluent in three other languages. Yes, I was lucky growing up surrounded by more than half a dozen languages. But I was determined that three more would open my horizon. Ah, how the youth can be so ignorant!

I must have fried my brain or hit a plateau. Or maybe those early Latin lessons killed my enthusiasm because, it took me many decades to get anywhere close to perfection. Even now, there are times when I do not have a clue what word is coming out of my mouth. I admit I cannot make it pass the basic conversation, to the point of making a fool of myself in front of an audience.

“French is the language that turns dirt in romance.” – Stephen King

When my first child was born, I was dissuaded to introduce another language for fear she might be confused and mix up languages. I moved to a trilingual country and solved the problem for both her and her siblings; from birth, their brains have been wired to adjust to being bilingual. Although they are fluent in both languages, we have adopted ‘Frenglish’ or ‘Franglais’ at home. We use more English in our sentence structure when speaking in French.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” – Federico Fellini

I have features that could pass for a local, depending in which country I am travelling. One can see it as hilarious but to my children (language police), it is pathetic whenever someone speak to me in their foreign language and I reply with ‘yah’. It does not matter if they are speaking Russian, Korean or Arabic. To tell the truth I do not even know why I do it. Maybe I am too scared to check into my shallow list of vocabulary. Or maybe when in deep Russia, where no one speaks any other language, ‘Yah’ is forcibly acceptable.

Some years ago, on arrival at Orlando International, a security officer spoke to me in Spanish. Having spent nine hours on a flight, my brain did not register the language. I looked at her, shrugged, and out came ‘yah’. She must have thought I was stupid for she did not press on. I am lucky I did not get detained for further questioning.

“To learn a new language is to open another window from which to see the world.” – Chinese proverb

The brain, as any muscle, likes to exercise, so being fluent in two or more languages keeps the brain healthy and active. Studies have proven that it helps to delay symptoms of alzeimer’s disease. Our ability to multi-task and our concentration increase. Our memory improves and we become good at problem-solving.

I am aware I am not good at everything and I know some people are perfectly able to craft a very well-constructed sentence in whatever language they put their mind to. But there are other ways I can make myself understood. I am open-minded, empathetic and have good listening skills – I can easily connect to other cultures of the world. Using creative-skills, with mimes and key words, I stretch my vocabulary two thousandfold. I wing it. Happy days.

In Honour of World Mental Health Day

Did you know that mental illness is connected to physical illness? Depression is a brain disorder that leads to emotional suffering. It can lead to a lot of physical problems that affect everything from your heart to your immune system. Changes in how your brain function can have a big effect on your body.

You will surely agree with me that life can be stressful. Sometimes you may feel so stressed that you cannot work out what to do as your brain is overanalysing. You might feel constantly tired and achy.  Your appetite for food and sex might decrease. You might have insomnia, or you might sleep too much. Whatever it is, I am sure you will want some explanations but will not find easy answers.

“Our life is shaped by our mind for we become what we think.” – Buddha

It is not easy to fit in with the crowd and we all want to feel accepted. I have known those who would do anything, from cracking silly jokes to saying ‘yes’ to every person. And when they fail to integrate, they feel unloved and misunderstood. They lose their identity and become depressed. They turn in on themselves and become a recluse.

Depression alters your brain structure. Your whole life is turned upside down. You experience fear and loneliness. You feel unmotivated. You become increasingly bad-tempered, snap at people and then feel guilty afterwards. You might bear someone a grudge for a long time even though you do not know the reason why you did it in the first place.

“Even though I walk through the dark valley of death because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage.”- Psalm 23:4

There is no fairy godmother with a magic wand to fix your life when you are going through your darkest moments. Some people, when they are suffering, sometimes draw closer to God and others walk away for good. Whether you are alone or surrounded by people, you have the choice to follow your own path. If you feel unsure, you can try to correct it with another choice and make it right. But it is up to you to take hold of your life and take charge of it.

You might say that it is not easy to do when you feel your world is crumbling. You will need help and support to change your attitude and create a more regular routine. Do not compare yourself to others, especially on social media. They only share the good things that happen to them. Reach out to those you trust and express your feelings. You might be surprised to find that you are not the only one who is feeling down. One phone call, one text message might make someone else feel less isolated.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” –  The YogaMad

Learn the art of self-care and self-love and stay positive. Fill your time with things that you enjoy so you feel less lonely. Dance or exercise to music, moving your body to the point of losing yourself. It will lift your mood and take your mind off things. If you want something more calming, try meditation. Join an online community or support group. Just keep busy.

Take advantage of free online courses. Learn something new that you have always wanted to do. Join a choir or an art class and discover your hidden talents. Travel the world virtually and explore. Go on a tour of foreign cities and discover new languages and food. No matter what you choose, you are the driver of your own destiny.

Nothing lasts forever

Everything has a time limit – good and bad things.  No matter how bad something is in your life right now, it will not last for ever. You must accept there will be things at which you are not successful, but you will learn to become stronger with each failure. Buddha said, ‘Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.’ So, if things do not work out today, sleep on it and try again tomorrow!