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Identity and language

With your first encounter with a foreign language you are coming into contact with an “other”: another language and another culture. But actually that “other” is not as foreign as you think. In time the new language and culture can become natural to you, a part of who you are.

You become a better language learner when you accept the fact that you can change. You can acquire skills and behaviour patterns characteristic of another culture. It has been done many times, and others with no previous experience of language learning have been seen achieving the same.

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In his book “El Bosque Originario” (Ediciones Taurus), on the genealogical myths of the people of Europe, the Basque philosopher Jon Juaristi writes:

“There is no nation without its tale or tales of origin. These myths are based on the logic of exclusion, of a difference constructed on the basis of exalting Us and negating the Other. Recurring themes like aboriginality, divine selection, purity of blood or language are supports of different variants of a common narrative.”

The better language learner knows that the differences between people, exalted in such traditions, are not based on biology but on education. The better language learner sees these differences but also sees similarity.

And the better language learner is able to grow as a person and accept elements of a new culture as part of his or her larger human identity.

Understanding cultural-specific contexts along with linguistic principles of a particular culture is central to effective language acquisition. Learning about the culture of the language can also help prevent cultural misunderstandings with native speakers. 

As you reach advanced levels in language and culture study, your identity as a language learner becomes embedded in who you are. You start to feel a sense of belonging to the culture of the language you are learning, which can lead to a greater understanding of the worldviews of different cultures and societies, also known as transcultural competence.

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