It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones

“Speech is the identity that you show to the world. So when you can’t say anything… you can’t say where you are, you can’t say what your intention is, you can’t say what you’ve come to do… Nothing. So it’s like you lose your identity, because you lose yourself. You know that your down there somewhere, but to come out is hard.”

The quote is from Sharon Deering, my guest for podcast Episode 1, “With Language Comes Identity.”

While Sharon is specifically talking about the challenge and struggle of overcoming loss of language because of a stroke, her insights have universal application. Indeed, what I discover in every podcast is that identity emerges, often to the guest’s surprise, as we focus on their experience with language — in these cases, language(s) added to those that are based in their own family unit.

Parthena Draggett (Episode 6) notes she grew up in a multilingual, multicultural neighborhood, where varieties of languages and accents were just the way the world worked and varieties of identities were a given. Amanda Seewald (Episode 10) reflects on her own emerging sense of family and personal history beginning with her grandmother’s Yiddish. David Bong (Episode 9) declares he knew of no use whatsoever for learning a new language…until he met and admired a wrestling coach of a different language and culture: wrestling was part of David’s key identity, and he was open to adding to that identity by learning the language and culture of his mentor.

Language = identity. In conversation in conversation it becomes clear that learning new languages and learning about new cultures and perspectives adds to identity, broadens it, enriches it. Far from changing or losing our personal or family identity, through the study of language we find profound and precious insights into ourselves, our families, and our personal history an identity. Listen to the power of just that eye- and heart-opening process in the sharing provided by Carolyn Gill (Episode 4) on “the other;” by Ken Stewart (Episode 3) about language growing into community; by Sharla Zwirek (Episode 11) on her pathway of language to understanding and inclusion; and by Andres Pi Andreu (Episode 5) who shares the power of multiple languages in releasing our imagination and creativity. Note how John De Mado (Episode 12) points out that our identity through language gives us power: we add and choose exactly the language elements we will we use to make our pathways and impact in life.

In my years as a language educator, I have observed, with sadness, parents and guardians resistant to having their children take language courses. But in a profound way they have intuited the great truth that language is identity. But where my work has been focused — where it is now, where the work is of all who know language — is on demonstrating that far from taking a person’s identity away, language adds to our core identity, making us profoundly more aware of who we are and the power an uniqueness of our own family and cultural identity. Once we command the concept of language, we add to exactly who we are, finding doors and windows fly open to our influence and impact in the world.

Linda Markley (Episode 2) is recognized nationally for bringing this positive, additive story of language to students, communities, and legislatures. She invited me to be a guest on her podcast “Spirit of Teaching” where I address the concepts of identity from and respect for languages and cultures. I invite you to take 30 minutes to listen to my perspectives; you’ll see a bit more clearly why I am producing these podcasts.

How about you? What is your identity through language? Where do you make an impact in the qworld through your language(s) and culture(s)?

You can find all my podcast episodes on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Or subscribe to Fluency Online on YouTube.

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