Language does not exist as a stand-alone being. It is fused with the lifestyle of a people and painted with an array of cultural beauty. The reason language transcends borders is not because of bridging the gap of communication but the gap in intercultural agility. I use the term “Agility” as means of defining how effectively an individual can grasp the cultural shift between worlds. In any language learning journey, culture is a necessity for full comprehension of the language, without culture, a language becomes sounds and gestures void of meaningful impact.
Here are 4 reasons why culture is important in language learning:
- Motivational Charge: There has to be a reason that you’ve started to learn a certain language, and if that reason is embedded within the culture and morphological structure of the language then that can serve as a huge motivational plug. Personally, my initial motivation for learning Japanese was the Sengoku no jidai 戦国の時代 (warring states period). At first, I didn’t know the exact term for it because I was solely focused on the samurai aspect of it, but I knew I had to find out more. So, I started studying traditional history and culture – and before I knew it one thing leads to the next and I was learning the language.
- Pick up on social cues more easily: Language learning isn’t black n’ white. There is a fine line where language blends with the cultural background, and certain words phrases or stories deviate from the google translate box. For example, if someone said, 河童も川流れ (Kappa mo kawa nagare) – Even a kappa can get carried away by the river. If you haven’t studied Japanese Yokai the idea of a kappa might fly right over your head… but that saying would mean “Even if you’re the best at what you do, you can still fail- so be careful with your pride.”
3. Feel more natural and accepting: If you learn from the culture of another country, tribe, clan etc. Your view of the world becomes less of a valley and more of a Grand Canyon. If you’re from a tiny island like me (No more than 26.7 miles in diameter), then you can imagine how your view of the world can be skewed in a moment’s notice if you don’t pay close attention to it. Think about this for a moment, there are 7106 living languages in the world, each with their own unique lineage of culture and history. To be aware of that fact alone exhibits an incredible retrospection of the natural world.
4. Learning culture also knocks your ego down a few notches: When you’re learning a language and realize that you are learning something embedded with years and years of tradition and historical value which are different from your own, humility dawns in an instant. Ego is one of the biggest drawbacks in language learning, thinking that you know everything when really you know nothing is one of the biggest reasons for the complete failure of language learning. When you learn to stop applying the logic you were once so comfortable with to this new form of thinking, things will begin to become clear.