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Studying Foreign Languages in College

Updated on January 8, 2017
Woven wall hanging we bought in Lesotho with images of ama-Xhosa wearing skirts called imibhaco.
Woven wall hanging we bought in Lesotho with images of ama-Xhosa wearing skirts called imibhaco. | Source

Internet Lingua Franca

People have reasons for studying foreign languages in college. Some want to work abroad. Others have African, Indian or Chinese parents but they were born in Europe or North America and want to learn their parents' language to reconnect with this or that motherland.

Languages usually have a source, a home base, roots or a country. Hashtag languages are languages without borders. They are stateless. They do not have physical characteristics like mountains, plains, rivers, rift valleys or deserts.

Hashtag languages used in e-mails, text messages (SMS) and social networking are international languages because they are understood by people who own certain devices: mobile phones and computers.

Languages in Context

Traditional languages do not have that advantage. They work well where they were born. It is still more effective to be in the Eastern Cape in South Africa in order to understand isiXhosa, the language that breast fed the late Miriam Makeba, when this international singer was a little girl.

Xhosa Language
English Translation
put on clothes
the mind
on Saturday
The Xhosa language is made up of groups of letters that produce certain click sounds. There is no equivalent in English, so English language computers might reject them.

Why Study Languages in College?

Students studying Xhosa, Shona, Hausa, Luo, Fante, Igbo or Swahili in the 2015-2016 academic year do it intentionally. Maybe they want to go and live in Kenya and see beautiful women like actress Lupita Nyong’o every day.

Maybe they are studying languages for political reasons i.e. to be the next president of Ghana or want to go and live near the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and drink the mist of that great waterfall.

Whatever the reason, sitting behind a desk is not enough to learn languages. Students must go to the river to completely quench their thirst.

Languages and Culture

Studying languages thousands of miles away from countries where they were born presents students with a multitude of problems, including missing out on their beauty.

Languages were born in certain geographical enclaves. That is why they are the best beehive for extracting information about the botany of a particular country, its animals, topography and climatic conditions.

That was before so-called education, with its emphasis on peeling, chopping, pruning and hacking knowledge into individual cubicles called art, astronomy, botany, engineering, geography, mathematics, medicine, music, physics, poetry or zoology.

Education also played God and separated human beings from animals. Humans in industrialized countries live in concrete houses protected by electrified fences and animals in the jungle. Should lions or bears venture into human settlements and kill people, they are hunted and shot.

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave star and Lancôme brand ambassador speaks English, Spanish, and Kenyan languages Luo and Swahili.
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave star and Lancôme brand ambassador speaks English, Spanish, and Kenyan languages Luo and Swahili. | Source
Aloes are very bitter and there are proverbs and idioms in southern Africa, based on its leaves and taste.
Aloes are very bitter and there are proverbs and idioms in southern Africa, based on its leaves and taste. | Source

Proverbs and Idioms

Animals and plants live in languages. Children that grow up in a country that relies on cattle understand their parents’ idioms inspired by these animals, because they know them.

They take them out in the morning, look after them while they feed, observe cattle language as the animals speak to each other and take them back home in the evening.

Parents who speak Zulu like giving kids nuggets of wisdom like saying you lick somebody who licks you. This idiom is about cattle licking each other, for lack of a better word. That is a sign that they like each other.

Saying that they love each other would be stretching it a bit thanks to Hollywood and how it hijacked the word love and blanched it of all meaning.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you the idiom in its original language but licking something that licks you means you help people who help you. The English say one good turn deserves another. You follow me on Twitter or Hubpages, I follow you back, that sort of thing.

Cattle are just one example. When parents say they are as stubborn as a frog, children understand completely because frogs are common place and they are very difficult to chase from the house once they get in.

Living in Africa also means living with owls, and there are many idioms about the bird with the big eyes that sleeps during the day.

Zebras negotiating a date. Can i see you tonight?  Just kidding.
Zebras negotiating a date. Can i see you tonight? Just kidding. | Source

Movies as Language Teachers

I am a cinema butterfly. I know a few words of different languages because I hang out in cinema joints in physical structures like the Cineplex, inserting DVD’s into a DVD player and cyberspace.

Mama got me into the habit when I was ten years old. Living in Toronto put another layer of movie addiction thanks to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which exposed me to independent cinema. I was hooked for life.

When renting a car in rural Africa, obey speed limits. Animals come from nowhere and can damage the car and you.
When renting a car in rural Africa, obey speed limits. Animals come from nowhere and can damage the car and you. | Source

Yoruba Movies

My movie automobile is currently packed in Nigeria, particularly Yoruba movies because of the language and how Yoruba people tap from palm trees, cocoyam leaves and all nature to express themselves.

Most of them are made for Nigerian television channels such as Okin, Ibaka, Iroko or Aforevo.

I am not getting the whole picture because of sub-titles. Call it lost in translation, but there is absolutely nothing to be alarmed about.

It also happened when I was squatting in Bollywood, watching Hindi movies. Guys doing the sub-titles sometimes just got tired and left me staring at Ranbir Kapoor or Madhuri Dixit. Anyway, sub-titles is all I have and they are enough to give me an idea of what movies are all about.

Yoruba is one of the languages spoken in Nigeria, the eight biggest country in the world, in terms of population. It fascinates me because it is slightly similar to isiZulu, the language that brought me up.

Yoruba movies, through the language, have introduced me to animals, food, weather, clothes, customs and beliefs of the Yoruba.

Languages Adapt

Language students are not handling a stationary thing like a rock. Languages are like the ocean. They can be calm like a baby after nursing or volatile like the Indian Ocean.

Sit on your grass mat or blanket on the beach and watch the sea. Ignore the men fishing on the pier or surfers riding the waves. You will be surprised at the things the ocean will teach you.

Languages adapt because they are liquid like oceans. There were no cellphones in 1888. You are reading this from your Samsung or HTC phone and the language isiZulu has a name for a mobile phone.

They call it umakhalekhukhwini down in South Africa. This is a whole sentence which literally means: it is ringing in the pocket.

English also adapts or maybe I should say that the British navy and guns might have conquered the world but Buckingham Palace English Prince George inherited is as dead as a dodo.

African Americans adapted English to their situation, their music, their pain. Middle class Americans shun it until they unconsciously speak like African Americans. Then it becomes standard American English.

English is spoken on the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. It is only that you will never know because you don’t understand what it is being said.


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