Whenever someone tells you that they have traveled a lot, you suddenly become more interested in what that person has to say. Traveling is a really big thing in the Western world today; but why is it interesting to travel? The world gets smaller and cultures get merged together concurrently with the development of technology; it has never been easier to explore the world and stay in contact with people we meet around the world. In principle, we could just look everything up on the internet; why not settle for landscape pictures and videos online?
I think we want to meet people where they are and see them doing their own thing in their local environment. As long as it agrees with the cultural identity built on stereotypes, that is. When we meet people from a different culture, we don’t really want to hear anything else than what correlates with our own perception of the country’s identity.
When we travel, the identity of a country gets blurry; we mix up how people actually are with the stereotypes from different cultures. I was a little surprised when I got to know that not all Irish people drink Guinness for breakfast or care that much about partying on St. Patrick’s Day; it was not what I wanted to hear. If you know the stereotypes of a country, and you have looked up the place beforehand, then why even go if it can break the illusion of your perception of the country’s identity? On the other hand, is the country’s identity really based upon those stereotypes? Maybe the identity of the country is not build upon the stereotypes from foreigners; it is worth going there to find out. Get rid of the stereotypes and unravel the identity of a strange place yourself!
Before I went to Ireland, I considered myself as fairly fluent in English; now I do not. After I had been here for some time, I started wondering: When are you really fluent in a language? I can participate in conversations, even academic ones, and I have no problem with relying on my English. In spite of this, I still feel like a completely incompetent English speaker when someone uses idioms that I have never heard before.
A language consists of implicit cultural knowledge that non-native speakers do not have a chance to know about; even non-verbal communication within that language is different. Within different variations of the same language, difficulties of understanding can occur as the cultures are different from each other. For example, Americans on exchange in Ireland can sometimes find it hard to understand Irish, not just because of the accent, but because of the cultural differences; that is in spite of them both being derivations of English.
I do not think that language only consists of words. I think it consists of culture. To become fluent in a language, you have to be fluent in the culture. In another blog post, I argued that a language shapes your identity as you use the language to think. I still think that it is true, but I am now adding on to that. If the language is a product of the culture, so are you. You are a product of your native language and culture which your identity is bound to. I think it takes a lifetime to become fluent in another culture, just as it takes a lifetime to create an identity. With that being said, I still believe that knowing another language expands your identity; you become aware of another culture and another way of thinking.