Language and Culture share a very strong relationship where it is very hard to get one right without understanding the other. The two are very much connected thus, to fully appreciate a language; one has to understand the culture behind it. With tons of definitions of the word culture, it can be narrowed down to simply mean the way of life of a particular set of people. Mostly, these people share the same beliefs, values, language and even behavior. With these two intrinsically connected, this article will highlight how understanding of a culture would help one in their journey to learn and use the language associated.
Language is a system of communication we use to express and share our thoughts, ideas and feelings with each other. Language being a vital factor in ever dynamic views and customs of its speakers, It is next to impossible to master a language until you understand its culture. Languages are a mirror of customs and beliefs of a people. Understanding their way of life is usually a big leap in one’s journey of learning the language.
With very rich vocabulary and synonyms in most popular languages, only such information and knowledge would help one choose the right words for a particular context. There are also many words that may be missed in your native language and are present in a foreign language that might be translated better by an element of its culture. For instance, having a glance at Chinese idioms and sayings, when speaking with neighbors and people from the community, it is customary to address them respectfully as “uncle” 叔shū叔shū，“aunt” 阿ā姨yí，“grandfather” 爷yé爷yé，“grandmother” 奶nǎi奶nai- according to their age. This makes us understand the words “aunt” and “uncle” do not have to necessarily mean a relative.
Just because you know how to say ‘lemon’ and ‘glass’ in French, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to order lemonade in a coffee shop in Paris. Studying grammar, verbs, and all the rules of a language are just the formal way of learning a language. There is always that human side to a language which can only be achieved by interaction or observation of its speakers. This has made many learning institutions have exchange programs to ensure their students learn languages in the best environment possible. Understanding culture minimizes misunderstandings. A simple phrase like “Good morning”, which is a morning greeting might cause confusion to someone who does not know this culture. They may take the literal meaning which would be describing the morning is good. How would a foreigner get the meaning of the phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “fly by the seats of your pants” outside the cultural context?
Our native languages play a very big role in the way we get new information. We tend to make direct translations from our native languages while attempting to speak in another language. Culture enables us to think in that particular language hence making us choose the correct words in the correct contexts. When you understand your audience, chances are you are going to say the correct words to them while conversing. Traveling, reading newspapers and magazines, watching subtitled movies are a great way to understand the culture of a language you wish to learn.
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