“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ---Nelson Mandela
What excites me about 2020?Opportunities to explore new places and cultures. Yes, that’s right, even in the midst of a pandemic, I have found ways to experience other cultures. I have taken virtual tours of Jerusalem and Japan, and my French language learning apps like Memrise and Tandem have been in heavy rotation. That means I’m meeting and speaking to people from around the world.
This past weekend, I actually had an opportunity to participate in the inaugural Sisters Only Language Summit, an online event for Black women who speak multiple languages, and it was pure gold. More than 60 women from around the world participated, and collectively we spoke seven languages, including German, French, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Italian. This was the first time an event with a multilingual focus had been dedicated to Black women.
From an engaging panel discussion about diversity in language learning to discovering career opportunities abroad, it was a great way to connect with women who share my passion for language and culture.
While the summit was held online, I still felt connected to the women who spoke at the event. Several of us shared a love of Belgian pop star Stromae’s music and we briefly sang “Papaoutai” during our small group breakout session. Desta Haile, a London-based professional musician and music teacher, is the owner of Languages through Music. She was one of the summit presenters and her online French music classes are now on my radar.
In the United States, there is definitely linguistic and cultural diversity. However, in many places across the country, people simply expect you to speak English. In general, many people do not attempt to learn a second language unless it is a heritage language (a native language spoken by your community of origin) or they are learning the language for school or career opportunities. While these are certainly valid reasons to learn a second language, it is also reasonable to learn a second language to become culturally competent and to connect with people from diverse backgrounds in meaningful ways.
The women who attended the summit represented different walks of life and career fields. Some had grown up in military families. Several had studied languages in college, whereas others had come to learn a second language through community ties and other means. At the Sisters Only Language Summit, we supported and encouraged one another in our respective language learning journeys by sharing knowledge and resources. My summit experience made me feel seen and heard because there were other women who looked like me who were passionate about language learning. It was our love of languages that linked us together in that historical moment.