Monday, July 14, 2014

The Power of Language {SOL 7-15-14}

We sometimes take language for granted.

We forget how much we rely on language to communicate with others, to get what we want or need, to ask questions.

I open my mouth and words fall out and suddenly, I have made a connection with someone else.

We have a French student, Cecile, staying with us for three weeks. She is absolutely wonderful and I am continually impressed with how open-minded and willing she is to try new things.
Here is Cecile with my daughter Kara on her arrival day

Cecile is spending three weeks in the USA not only to visit the sights, but also to improve her English.  She actually knows four languages (French, English, Spanish and Arabic -- She'll be learning Chinese in the fall.) She wants to be a surgeon so she feels knowing many languages will be helpful to her.  Talk about impressive!

Cecile said she has had one year of English, but is frustrated that the class taught her what she calls "unnecessary English" -- words about scuba diving -- and less "necessary" words that she could use to communicate with an English speaking host family.  Despite this, her English is still impressive and is growing by the day.

Last week, Cecile and I spent most of the time together because my daughter had to finish out her week of working at the horse farm.  Cecile and I made polite conversation, talking about the differences in education, shopping and food between our countries.  As we spoke, I tried to use words that were the most basic I could think of to tell her what I wanted to say. It was exhausting for me and I can only guess how exhausting it was for her as a listener. I was no longer opening my mouth and letting words just fall out.

Now Cecile spends most her her time with Kara and boy, has her English soared!  I was listening to the girls talk as they were washing and drying dishes.  Kara was saying things to her like "Get a new towel from the linen closet. That one is only somewhat dry" and "Dad is going to be late. He's stuck in a traffic jam." Kara doesn't take her words to the lowest common denominator with Cecile.  She says it like it is.  

Cecile soaked in these new words and they became part of her "necessary" vocabulary because these were words she was using to make a connection with another person. (As a matter of fact, on our way to the grocery store today, traffic was stopped because of construction and Cecile asked, "Are we in a traffic jam?")

Yes, language is a powerful thing. Our connections prove it.


  1. Lovely. I was an exchange student many years ago. I felt so triumphant when I was able to use idioms and new vocabulary successfully.

  2. What a great experience for you all.

  3. Before launching for Thailand in 2000 with the rest of my new buddies in the Peace Corps, I got the best advice ever for learning Thai: have fun with it! And we Peace Corps Volunteers had such a funny vernacular--each unique to our experience and site and chatting partners--that it was hilarious to come together to swap slang words and tell stories of our missteps. It was, for me, the first time I really realized that making mistakes was inevitable and…that's how I learned. Loved this slice, and congratulations to Cecile!

  4. A learning experience for everyone in the power of words. I only wish I had the talent for picking up and retaining a foreign language.

  5. What a cool experience for Cecile and your family.

  6. Love your new understanding, Jen. And what a great experience for you all. I used to speak French, but have lost nearly all the conversation part because of no practice. I can still read pretty well. It was wise of your daughter to just 'get with it', wasn't it? Great story!

  7. I am always amazed at how quickly the young "get going" with a language - loved the way your daughter knew just what to do! And bravo for inviting Cecile into your home -an adventure for all.

  8. What a wonderful learning adventure for all. Words are powerful! Which reminds me, thank you for the encouraging and kind words you left me recently about my poetry! :)


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