Updated: Jun 1
Flying, super strength, teleportation, invisibility, the ability to make $20 bills grow out of your fingertips on demand. What is your answer to the icebreaker question of “If you could have any superpower what would it be?”
What if your superpower was instant language learning?
If you have ever desired to understand and speak another language, perhaps you have considered how amazing it would be to have a super power that gives you immediate fluency in any and every language wherever you go. Think of the time you would save! Imagine the opportunities! Smell the sweet lassi of leisure and the biryani of bliss!
Now come back down to earth. The reality is, language learning is far from easy and immediate. It is a long journey requiring many hours of hard work, countless mistakes, and seemingly endless embarrassing moments. Though there may be methods and approaches that are more effective than others, no road to fluency is purely rainbows and roses.
So why do people put themselves through this? Why have you embarked on this journey?
Earliest Account of Confusion in Language
Perhaps this question is not new. Perhaps it is as old as some of the earliest stories we have on record, one being found in Genesis 11 on the Tower of Babel. The account begins with a statement that sounds almost like fantasy to even imagine- “The whole world had one language and a common speech.”
From this state of linguistic unity, people became proud and arrogant, desiring to make a name for themselves. So God confused their language and scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Now for the difficult question- was this a punishment or a provision? It was certainly a consequence of incredible implications, many of which we still feel very tangibly today.
Division is one of these significant implications. No longer did a single common language unify everyone on earth. Now in efforts to communicate and connect, there is confusion and chaos. There is division and disunity. There is embarrassment and struggle. There is humiliation.
Power of Humility in Connecting
Humility in language learning is perhaps an even more significant implication. Humans, hard-wired towards pride and arrogance, desiring to be known, to be seen, to be awarded and praised by others- now enter into cross cultural relationships in a state of weakness and humility. Connecting deeply and immediately from a position of power is not possible. Connection now must come through lowering oneself and lifting up those with whom you desire to connect.
But the desire to connect inherent in our humanity proves sometimes stronger than the choice to remain content in pride and isolation. Some may prove willing to do whatever is required to restore this connection once lost. The few with the vision for meaningful connection may find humility as the ultimate superpower leading to the significance behind the connections that they desire.
Practical Implications of Humility in Language Learning
What happens to those who in humility, become like newborns again in a foreign language and culture?
Humble language learners build trust.
Humble language learners gain understanding.
Humble language learners increase their chances of being deeply understood.
Humble language learners grow to love a people and place once a chasm away.
Humble language learners gain access to the heart of their hosts.
A superpower, magic wand, supernatural gift, or any other route to learn language instantly is a dream rooted outside of reality. But the seeds of humility that we get to plant and allow to grow within the hearts of our hosts are true and impactful and well worth the time of investment. Fluency in language is awe-inspiring indeed. But humility in language learning is the real superpower for meaningful connection.