This year, I decided to study Japanese more intensely to challenge myself. I did so because I am a language learner. I did so because I wanted to be closer to the country that has captured my imagination since childhood. Furthermore, I have been fortunate to meet and befriend Japanese people throughout my life, causing my interest to grow exponentially. However, it wasn’t until this year that I decided I wanted to learn Japanese. So every day, I work on my Japanese lessons, and I absolutely love it. Learning Japanese is challenging, of course, but it allows me to reflect in ways that I can’t with other languages. Its unique structure gives me means for more thought and reflection.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to learn three different languages simultaneously. Polyglots make up my mum’s side of the family; growing up around so many languages gave me the desire to learn even more. I am surprised that foreign language instruction isn’t emphasized more here in the States; there are immense and profound benefits including increased creativity, higher employability, and more positive attitudes toward people who are different.
Learning another language allows individuals to experience the culture in a different way. It can provide a deeper understanding of concepts and cultural beliefs. For instance, one of my favorite words in Japanese is いただきます (Romanji: Itadakimasu). Literally, it translates to “I humbly receive,” and it is said before eating a meal. The closest English equivalent is saying grace. The individual is giving thanks for everything that went into the meal. The word has Buddhist roots, which emphasizes respect for nature and living things. It is a word that reminds me to be grateful for everything that I have in my life.
Another beautiful concept is 金継ぎ (Romanji: kintsugi) which translates to “golden joinery.” It is ancient Japanese art form, where broken pottery is fixed with a special lacquer mix of gold, silver, or platinum. Instead of hiding the break, the art form highlights it, making the piece beautiful in its own way. This is a direct reflection of the philosophy of 侘寂 (Romanji: wabi-sabi), which is about seeing beauty in the imperfect and flawed. A cultural example that reflects this is the Japanese tea ceremony. There is a lot more to both concepts that cannot explained in one mere blog post, but I hope it at least gives you a sense of the country and the culture.
Learning a foreign language is beneficial for all professionals but especially for those in student affairs.
Mastering one or more languages can help you connect with other professionals and with students (especially international students) on a different level. It can also open doors to new opportunities, such as living abroad, that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be there. Knowing additional languages improves intelligence, makes people more perceptive, increases one’s ability to multitask, allows people to better make decisions, and improves one’s mother tongue—all of which are useful in the realm of higher education.
Charlemagne once said “to have another language is to possess a second soul.” This is a beautiful way of putting it. Learning a new language really does give you a new soul (and new outlook) in your life.