Spirituality: Lessons for Language Learners
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Welcome to The 5-Week Linguist Show. This week, I wanted to talk about languages and spirituality. Charlemagne once said to have another language is to possess another soul. I’ve thought about that so many times over the years. Having another language gives us an entirely different outlook on life. It gives us a whole different set of ways to connect with people that you would never be able to talk to. It’s not just limited to the people we talk to. It’s limited to the ideas and the content they produce the films, the literature, their history. It completely broadens your horizons and opens up your world to so many possibilities.
I want to really define what I believe spirituality to be and give you just a little bit about my background. I was not raised with any type of organized religion. My parents divorced when I was very young. My father was almost anti-religion. He was raised in a Catholic house, and he’s a doctor level engineer who believes in logic, and reason, and mathematics, and numbers, and does not believe that there is anything beyond. Growing up, he felt that church was just his duty and that it was something that he didn’t want in his adult life.
My mother was raised in an Episcopalian household. Religion was important, but it was … They were really nice people, my mother’s family, and went to church. It was also social and a part of their culture.
Neither of them had any inclination to raise us with any religion. My brother and sister were both baptized as part of my father’s Catholic upbringing, and they decided they would not going to do that with me. And if I’m fairly honest, it gave me this huge sense of fear and instability when I was really aware that everyone else my age was learning religion, so going … Whatever that meant. Of course, that’s different for everyone. But, they had a really strong sense of what they should do and what they shouldn’t do and then what was going to happen later on. I felt really scared about that, even though I knew … I didn’t know the specifics. I knew that there was something else and that there was something greater beyond what we were experiencing here, but I had no idea what that was.
As an adult, I am really grateful for that experience of not being raised to believe in any one particular religion, because I do think that it’s helped me be open-minded to just see religion as part of someone in their culture and not completely defining them, that we have more in common than we don’t. So when I look at religions, I consider … I’m able to just see it as part of something bigger and not something that disconnects us, but something … Not a place in which we differ necessarily and that I come to believe that spirituality encompasses and accepts all religions and beliefs. I found that really comforting.
Recently, I was listening to Berné Brown. I want to get her quote right. She talks about how important spirituality is. I feel like she is a church-goer, and that maybe recently she has some sort of service, Church with Berné Brown, I think they’re calling it. I think it’s non-denominational. It’s just people getting together.
I’m looking for the quote right now, so spirituality. How does she define spirituality? As connecting people. I’m not getting the quote 100% accurately, I’m sure. But that spirituality is that same knowing that we’re all connected by something that’s greater than us. I think that that’s a great definition, a really apt and accurate definition of spirituality, that there’s … Whatever it is, we’re all people, and we’re all in this together. I think that through languages, we get so much of that, and it lets us go further down that path.
But throughout the years, apart from those sort of, I believe, very true ideas, they’re still nebulous and vague. And I wanted to talk about some really practical ways to get languages into your life that are inspired by spirituality and that you can sort of adapt to your own belief set.
The first thing that I wanted to talk about was The Church of Latter Day Saints. They do an amazing job of growing their religion. I wish I could give you some statistics, but I think two years ago I read that it was one of the fastest growing religions in the world. And they do this by investing in missions, doing missions all over the world. A lot of times a young person in Latter Day Saints will be sponsored by a group of people, perhaps it’s their family, and they go on a two-year, maybe it’s two and a half years, but it’s at least two years, language mission. Not language mission, mission. And it could actually involve … and often involves another language.
They go and they spread the word of God as they believe it. They go and they spread their religion. The whole objective is, obviously, they want to share what they find comfort in. But, I’ve always thought about it from a really practical side, too. They’re really passionate. They really want to share their word, and they go to this language institute. I feel like there’s one in Salt Lake City and there’s one in Mexico. And I’m sure that there are more. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who have gone through it. I’d love to talk about as a language learner tell me about that experience.
They prepare by going to their language classes, and it’s intense. I mean, it’s acquisition and learning, and it’s all based on the Book of Mormon and how do they affectively communicate with these people for them to consider becoming one of them. So that’s a pretty high level of skill you’re talking about. They work on listening, reading. As I know it, they don’t do traditional grammar. They learn all the grammar from the Book of Mormon. And I’m assuming that it’s in … If your mission’s going to be to Guatemala, let’s say, I’m assuming that you would be studying the Book of Mormon in Spanish. But, that’s what it’s all based on. And they use all of that, all of that content, to practice and communicate.
So I’m told that they decide to learn a set of words, to do a certain thing, a task as I call it. They’re writing them all over flashcards. They’re hanging them up. They’re memorizing. They’re pitting them to skirts and studying every chance they get, pinning them to shirt sleeves, pants. I mean, it is all in. And they go for I’ve heard three months, I’ve heard six months. Then, they go. They take these skills out on the road. So they get to a decent level, probably a B2 level, I would say, at least. Then, they’re going door to door or using this in this target language country and talking to these locals. It’s pretty intense.
So regardless of where you might stand on any of that, I think that they’ve got some fantastic takeaways for every single language learner in the world. I’m really impressed with what they’ve done, and that is focusing on communicating with people, focusing on messages, focusing on being able to talk to people, and focusing on things that you’re passionate about, things that are really important to you, important to your soul. That might look to you like your religion if it’s not LDS. If you’re LDS, you’re probably familiar with what I’m talking about.
Maybe your religion looks … The thing that gives you lots of comfort and the thing that you feel really passionate about has nothing to do with spirituality, right? One thing I’m really passionate about is humanity. It’s people, and feelings, and thinking about how we can take all the lessons that we have in the world to keep making the world a better place. And are we? So taking something that’s really central to your life and using it as a way to learn languages. And whether that be your Book of Mormon, if you’re LDS, or the Bible, the Quran, whatever that might … the Torah, whatever that might look like to you. I think it’s a fantastic takeaway.
The next takeaway I want to talk about is worship. One of the things when I wanted to learn Spanish to a native level was I really wanted to go to church in Spanish, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. So I went and watched cable TV. There were no places that were doing worship in Spanish that I knew of. And again, this is sort of we were a lot less connected back in those days. But they certainly have cable TV, and I used to watch Spanish shows about religion on the Catholic channel. That could look like anything. Now you got YouTube, and you can … There’s so many people worshiping on YouTube all over the world. Learn a few keywords, and you can see … You could hear and see people worshiping in other languages. You may just be interested in it for the content of language, or maybe it’s, it’s something that can really provide you with some comfort and help you worship.
The next thing is about studying religion. We talked about LDS. I’m using them as one example because I think they’ve done an absolutely amazing job with getting language out there. Or language training to get their message out there, rather, through language. I can imagine that the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, all of those books from major religions and perhaps from other religions are going to be available to you in whatever language you want to study. And you could probably get them fairly inexpensively and even get them on a Kindle. But, we talked about the Book of Mormon being the message of that, being the main set of content for people going out on these missions.
But, this is all language research based, meaning Dr. Stephen Krashen … You’ll hear me talk about him all the time because, well, he’s Steven Krashen. He’s amazing. He’s done so much research to make second language acquisition possible and really practical, help people implement it in a really practical way learning new languages in classrooms, in schools, wherever. And if there’s any one thing that he would recommend that you do, it’s reading, which probably sounds kind of counter intuitive. Why don’t I talk to people? You should. But you can read in most places. You can probably find at least a half an hour a day to read on your own. What’s great about it is that you soak up all the vocabulary and grammar in meaningful chunks and completely in context. And once you dig deep and you read, I mean, it’s probably one of the most powerful ways to build your skills at a certain point if you’re literate. You have the ability to do that. So reading about those religions in the target language, or even reading about different religions. I think that’s a really important tool that you can use.
I will confess that I’ve never read the Bible. And going to an American public school, secular, I only heard about religion, quite frankly, from my classmates. I’d never read the Bible. This’ll be a great thing. I’m going to pick a religion, and I’m going to start reading more about it to have that religious education that I never had.
As I’ve said earlier, my lens for different religions, because I wasn’t raised with religion and I wasn’t … and I’d done languages since I was young, is that I always see … To me, religion has a lot to do with culture, the way people live. So they’re very tied in that way to me. I always think of people’s religion as part of, oftentimes, part of the culture within which they were raised. A culture, of course, is what people practice, and their products, and their perspectives. And I can’t think that there’s any better example of culture than that. What do people do? What kind of things do they make? How do they look at things? And of course, religion is going to tell you a lot about that.
Whatever that looks like to you, there’s some great language takeaways for your practice. So whatever your religious practice looks like, if you’ve got one, there’s a way to incorporate that into your language-learning routine. So very obviously and easily, if you’re religious and you belong to a certain church, memorizing prayers, and passages, and songs things from your religions, what a great way to get comfort, and feel connected, and learn a language at the same time.
I know that when I talked about spirituality another definition or take on spirituality, which I believe is really commonly held in modern society, particularly in the UK where I live, it doesn’t just mean organized religions. It also means a bit of the esoteric, so angels, and dream catchers, and things that don’t necessarily fall into Reiki, things that don’t necessarily fall into traditional organized religion, astrology, things like that. The universe, that’s probably the most common one. And we definitely see a lot of that in the United States, people talking about the secret and the law of attraction. Lots of people have a lot of beliefs that lean towards that way.
So there’s lots of opportunities for that, too. So if your leanings are more that way … Or it’s not even an either or. Maybe you also believe in some non-traditional ways to be spiritual. There are great ways to get that language learning into your life.
One thing I really like is doing vision boards. I know a lot of people like to do those at different times of the year, particularly early in the year. I really love it. There are apps that you can make a vision board in with. Or you can just do the traditional cutting pictures out. And it’s great because it’s all about thinking about what you want to see in the future, and you have visual reminders of where you want to go. It could be quotes. It culture be pictures of places you want to visit, things that inspire you. I love using them as language-learning prompts. So making a vision board and learning how to talk about everything that’s on your board or journaling about it. I love doing these in my class, too. Because when it’s dark and dreary in January, it’s always something change of pace, and uplifting, and target language that you can do with students.
I love gratitude journals as well. These have been one of the most powerful things for me is to intentionally practice gratitude, because it’s not always easy. I had an incredibly difficult period in my life, as we all do at times. I had just a lot of bad things happen in a short time, really challenging time. I started to, honestly, feel a little bit sorry for myself. And it was writing down 25 things that I was grateful for every day really helped me. You can do this in your target language. It’s a great way to practice gratitude and a new language at the same time.
Use your dictionary or your Google Translate if you don’t feel like you could do this in your own language and start listing things. You’ll learn a lot of vocabulary. You have to list 25 different things that you’re grateful for every day. And if you’re becoming more fluent, you can do this as a fluency journal activity where you’re writing out in sentence form, in paragraph form what you’re grateful for.
Brené Brown has a fantastic activity that she does in her house. They have a gratitude jar. The people in her household put things in the gratitude jar. So what a great thing to do. In your class, you can do that in the target language if you teach languages. You can also do that as a learner. Get a jar, and write things down every day that you’re grateful for. It feels great when you need to see it to pull them out and to read them.
I want to thank you for joining me on ways to combine your spiritual life and your spiritual practice with your language learning. Until next time.