Language: The Essence of Culture

Language: The Essence of Culture

By Kelsey Holmes, Greenheart Club Program Assistant

“If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside.” — Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-born American novelist and physician

Language is one of the most important parts of any culture.  It is the way by which people communicate with one another, build relationships, and create a sense of community.  There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, and each is unique in a number of ways.

Communication is a core component of any society, and language is an important aspect of that.  As language began to develop, different cultural communities put together collective understandings through sounds.  Over time, these sounds and their implied meanings became commonplace and language was formed.  Intercultural communication is a symbolic process whereby social reality is constructed, maintained, repaired and transformed.  As people with different cultural backgrounds interact, one of the most difficult barriers they face is that of language.  Check out the graphic below that shows how language has evolved over time!

language tree

Cultural identity is heavily dependent on a number of factors including ethnicity, gender, geographic location, religion, language, and so much more.  Culture is defined as a “historically transmitted system of symbols, meanings, and norms.”  Knowing a language automatically enables someone to identify with others who speak the same language.  This connection is such an important part of cultural exchange – check out this list of useful phrases from the Greenheart Club!

Learning a language can be daunting, but it’s an important way to connect with people from different cultures.  Watch the video below for inspiration – this 17 year old speaks over 20 languages!

Feeling up for the task?  Watching movies or TV in different languages is a great way to start.  If you’re feeling even more motivated, seek out language courses offered in your community, check out online learning communities, or download an app like Duolingo to begin your path to broader, more effective, and more personal communication!  What are some ways that you connect with people cross-culturally?

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