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Language and the sense of belonging

Charles Pasqua, the former French Minister of Immigration, once said that when an immigrant arrives in France his ancestors become the Gauls, the ancient Celtic people who lived in France at the time of the Roman Empire.

The importance of Charles Pasqua’s statement is not diminished by the fact that he, like new immigrants, had ancestors who were not Gauls. However, in French history and French myths of origin, the Gauls were important. Pasqua is French, so at least symbolically, his ancestors were the Gauls. This is part of his sense of belonging to the group.

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In a similar sense, as human beings, we could consider all ancient people as our ancestors. We can choose to partake of any of the traditions and cultures we see around us if we make the effort to learn them. As a result of learning your target language, you will be able to participate in the culture of that language and consider it a part of who you are. 

Consider approaching the study of foreign languages as a way to make this previously unknown culture a part of you, to explore your human heritage. 

In learning new languages it should not be your intention to compare different cultures to see which is “better,” but to acquire something new and valuable and expand as a human being. As a better language learner it is important to let go of the security of your native language and culture and broaden your identity.

Thus, when you speak French, you should try to become French; when you speak Spanish you try to be Spanish; when you speak Japanese, you could act as if you are Japanese. Largely this is a form of theatre and not a change of personality. 

You will notice that your facial expressions and gestures change when you speak different languages.

Until we become fluent in a new language, when we speak it we should engage in a certain degree of play-acting. Have fun and pretend that you are what you are not. 

You should empty your mind of your ancestral culture for a while in order to better absorb the language you are learning. Note that you don’t give up your original identity, and that is certainly not the aim of language learning. 

But you do acquire the ability to understand the values and way of thinking of another culture, which is a reward on its own!

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