Thoughts on Language, Culture and Migration

By Grace Igbinoke, S5 pupil and Career Ready Intern at the IRC in LINCS

I have always loved travelling because I get to see new places and know about new cultures. The even more fun part for me is that when you travel, you get to learn new languages. Languages are jigsaws that you have to complete, and it is important that, after you have completed one, you take care of it, and you don’t undo it. When you become bilingual (or perhaps polyglot), your brain is trained to have more than one language ready to answer at the time. This trains your memory retention, your ability to focus and it is a great way to make people more broad-minded as they will acknowledge the existence of how objects and gestures are seen in the different cultures. This in turn makes people more respectful and empathetic.

Maybe my love for languages comes from the fact that I grew up in a polyglot family. My parents speak four languages each, but for one reason or another they never thought me their first language – Edo. This did not stop my love for languages, in fact it only reinforced it.

One of the reasons my parents did not teach me their language is that they needed to learn another language themselves, which left little to no time to focus on teaching their children their own language. Another reason is that they thought that their language was irrelevant compared to my actual first language, Italian, which is a language from Europe. 

Sadly, this is the thought many immigrants have when moving. This idea that because a language is from Europe, it is more valuable than a language from Africa or Asia is very upsetting.

Some people will argue that perhaps some languages are more important and valuable than others. My take on this opinion is that: yes, some languages are definitely more valuable on your CV, because they are languages from more economically influential countries (or simply because there are more speakers of that language), but no, no language is more important than another one. Languages hold cultures and stories, and no one has the right to decide which language is valuable and which isn’t, because it is only harming the next generation’s knowledge of their own culture. I am saying this from experience.

My point is: the culture is held by the language in which it is spoken. For example, certain words or phrases simply do not make any sense if translated. Also, every language has its own sense of humour, which might make absolutely no sense in another language. Each language is beautiful and different. Therefore, it is important that all languages are valued.

In conclusion, languages are fun and unique, and they are an important instrument which will effectively keep a culture going for generations. So, if you are a free spirit as myself, pack your bags and on you go, your next destination is to be learning a new culture through its language!

Grace Igbinoke, S5 pupil and Career Ready Intern at the IRC in LINCS