Episode 64 – Tell Your Story

Tell Your Story Episode 64
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 64 - Tell Your Story
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“Language is how we name our own reality. Language is how we identify ourselves to ourselves as we grow, no matter what our situation. Language is the way we internally, first, and then externally, define who we are and to whom we belong…what we say about our lives. Language helps us to unfold our cultures, both those given to us because of our circumstances and then those we create.”

Jump down to listen to the podcast


Yesterday a friend from the general rural neighborhood came by with some old (early 20th century) German books of poetry and language study. (In return for his salvaging of the books from the dump and thinking of me and my love of both books and language, he received a fresh-baked loaf of bread and a pint of strawberry jam from my latest culinary accomplishments. So we’re square.)

The German nature of the books led him to share a story of his cross-the-road neighbor, a woman of some years with whom he has always had a relationship of mutual support and who now, in her years of increasing memory challenges, has in him a faithful listening companion still. This particular day, he told me, she was having “a better relationship with her past than with the present.”

In her chatting with this mutual friend, she had mentioned to him with apparent sadness that the German of her childhood had been lost from the years in the United States, in an area and in family responsibilities that did not connect her with any German-speaking folk. Excusing himself for a bit, he made some calls to a doctor acquaintance of his who was a German-speaker who travels the world on medical missions and uses her languages frequently. He got the doctor on his phone, then handed the phone to his neighbor.

He then told me what he observed:

The neighbor began to listen, and had a confused look on her face. She said a bit in English, attempting her part of what she understood was a conversation, but the disconnect between her attempts and what she was hearing was apparent.

Then, suddenly, her eyes widened, her face showed a happy shock, and she plunged back into the conversation, this time in German, her speech rapid, her face lit up with a smile, her sentences spilling out of her as she hungrily devoured every bit of that conversation in German.

We do not know, my neighbor and I, whether her comments in German made any more sense than those she now typically makes in English.

But this we know, as my friend reported on the end of the ten minutes spent in rapid German: his neighbor was happier than he had seen her in years. He said, “She was alive, joyful, energized, like the young person she knew herself to be in the German language. The years meant nothing; her confusion had been replaced with clarity and with a complete sense of who she knew herself to be.”

Exactly. You know who you are through your language. Hold on to that. Honor that in yourself. Honor that in others. That identity brings joy, no matter the life challenges in which you find yourself. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Enjoy the podcast.


Click to listen:

Episode 64 – Tell Your Story

Scroll down for full transcript.

Testimonial

Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore

Testimonial

Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL

Testimonial

You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht

Testimonial

Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

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Transcript

Norah Jones:

Hi, I’m Norah Jones. Welcome to It’s About Language. So what is language all about? Well, it’s about learning and sharing, opening doors and education, work and life. Language is about creating communities and creating boundaries. It’s all about the mystery of what makes us human. So, our conversations will explore that mystery and the impact of what makes us human. It’s about language in life. It’s about language at work. It’s about language for fun. Welcome to the podcast. Well, it’s time for a bit of a retrospective, I think. For the month of April of 2022, we have taken all four weeks to take a look at heritage language. We’ve defined what heritage language is. The role it can play in society. The nature of the opportunities or the blockages of opportunities that come for those that have heritage languages in their background. We’ve looked at advocacy, for the importance of heritage languages because of what they express about individuals.

Norah Jones:

And we’ve taken a look at the international collaborations on behalf of heritage languages in society, with opportunities in advocacy, because wherever people are, there are the languages. And in this global society, folks are all over the world, coming from one culture to another and bringing with it their heritage and their heritage language. Let’s unpack the word heritage for just a second. You know, Related to it as heir. To what are you an heir? What are you going to inherit? What have you inherited with regard to language or languages that you know, the cultures that you live in? Because no matter whether you’ve traveled or not, or have an international background in your family or your relationships, we’ve all been part of multiple cultures all of our lives. That I think is probably going to be another podcast.

Norah Jones:

Now you take a look at my husband. He was born and raised in this area of central Virginia. His background has apparently some Welsh, because his accent carries an older Welsh type. And he knows through his mother’s side in particular, exactly when his ancestors came as colonizers from the British Isles. Here to what’s now the United States. On the other hand, I’ve expressed both here and in a podcast that will be released in the summer of 2022, Inclusive Storytelling, having told the story of my father on the podcast with Ashwini Prasad… I hope you’ll listen… We talked about my background. I don’t really know anything past my grandparents on either side of my mother or father’s side of the family. It’s fairly limited. However, you notice that in the heritage language month, there were plenty of folks that referred to having never really known their background, never really learned anything of a heritage language, potentially having spoken a bit of it at home.

Norah Jones:

Some who had academic level of speech, the whole way through, all sorts of varieties, because humanity is a variety. And just for a moment, let’s turn to you. What is your language heritage? What is your cultural heritage? What is the heritage that you turn to when you identify yourself? It could be deep, like my husband’s is. You could be fully engaged in understanding it as I have been able to be despite my heritage being more shallow. And it might be that your heritage has been barely or hesitantly acknowledged. It might have even been forbidden. It might have been lost. And for some listeners, their heritage was stolen from them by enslavement, by sudden refugee status, even in infancy, and many other circumstances that we get into as human beings. But once again, even if you do not know exactly what your heritage is, linguistically or culturally, we all have it.

Norah Jones:

The unique miracle of language is the inheritance of humanity. The fact that you can understand what I’m saying. The fact that you can respond to it if you desire, especially in speech and potentially also in writing. Our human heritage is the capacity to belong. For some, that belonging comes through the family connection. For others, it’s an adopted belonging. By choice or by exigencies. Again, as many opportunities to belong as there are human beings on this planet. We have this heritage of language and culture, because language is how we name our own reality. Language is how we identify ourselves to ourselves as we grow, no matter what our situation. Language is the way we internally first and then externally define who we are, to whom we belong. What we say about our lives. Language helps us to unfold our cultures… Again, given to us because of our circumstances and then created. Especially when we begin to have a bit of autonomy in our early teens, and later as adults.

Norah Jones:

When we look back at the podcasts that began August of 2020, we can see that the language that folks have talked about their identity and about their culture has varied tremendously. It’s been a rich experience to talk with, listen to the stories of so many varied people. Reflections of the humanity that’s all over the planet. Reflections of your story too. We began in episode one with a person Sharon Deering, who lost her language through stroke and with it, identity. But all of the guests have come to experience common desire to connect. Common desire, to express their background and their identity, to open doors in education for themselves and for others, especially young people. To open doors in business, to their employees, to the world, as customers, for outreach, in media, in marketing. To be able to speak the speech and understand and enter into the cultures that are desired to be reached. And in developing leadership and service in the educational space, organizations, businesses, industry. It’s been a rich series.

Norah Jones:

Thanks again, to the Coalition of Community-Based Language Schools for being a sponsor of this podcast. The coalition supports, guides and promotes Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, and organizations across the United States to increase the visibility and recognition of these important schools. Learn more and connect with the Coalition on my website, fluency.consulting. And connect there too with me to learn how sponsorship can help you meet your goals. Please join me in sharing with those in education, business, and organizational leadership, the opportunities that come from knowing and celebrating human language. I invite you to become a sponsor of this podcast. Please see my website, fluency.consulting for more information, and to connect up with me about sponsorship.

Norah Jones:

So, next week we’re going to take a look at identity that is created. Theater is a place where people put on brand new identities. Brand new cultural settings. In the interviews that I conducted at a workshop for theater people here in central Virginia on the nature of language and dialects, I was moved by the stories that the participants told me about the nature of trying on those identities. Sometimes because they wanted to escape their previous identity in their lives. And sometimes because it was just so exciting to put on something brand new with personality, I know you’ll enjoy that podcast.

Norah Jones:

What else is coming up then over these next weeks? Well, remember that we took a look at the excitement that comes from people gathering together. Especially when they’re gathering together specifically to celebrate language and culture together. Not the same language, but the concept of language. Not the same culture, but the multiplicity of cultures. You heard that in episodes, 55 and 56, when I went to the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. You’ll be hearing also what happened when I went to the Southern Conference. It was held here in my home state of Virginia. Once again to be able to hear the excitement and the insights and the touching stories of that which brought these lovers of language and culture together. And what created this impetus, this desire, this need to go into the language profession or to support language professionals.

Norah Jones:

We’ll be taking a look at those who have…like I’ve had with previous podcasts, are struggling with the identity that comes through skin color. Being identified as folks that fit into certain niches. Yet being desirous of expressing through their language and through their lives, that specific identity which they bring. A multiplicity of languages. Cultures that have depth and history. And that’s a warning both in the past podcasts and for the future podcasts that you’ll be hearing about the nature of defining people from the outside, when language helps the experience of the person be expressed from the inside. Let’s listen to those stories. Those stories are your stories. Those stories are the stories of those around you. So to be able to say, what do we see from the outside? And what is it that people are bringing from the inside?

Norah Jones:

How can we stop for just a little while, listen, pay attention to the stories that are being told, tell our own with others patiently waiting and create the belonging that is uniquely possible through language. We’ll be taking a look at language use in business and industry and the application of the understanding of language in order to build opportunities for business, build organizational effectiveness. You’ve heard that in the past, looking forward to sharing some weeks of this with you here in May and June of 2022. And then in July and August of this year, look forward to taking our language on the road, language explorations. Here in the Northern hemisphere. It’s summertime. And a lot of folks, if they have the means are able to take at least a little vacation mentally, if not physically.

Norah Jones:

Let’s take a vacation with language. Let’s take language on the road and hear what happens when we go to varieties of places around the world, where people have their stories to tell, their culture to share, and come across those who are visiting, who are coming in just for a little while. Remember I come back to that concept of, let’s take time to listen to each other’s stories. One of the workshops that I do is called Wait Time. Wait Time is a known phenomenon in education. It’s applicable to families, businesses as well as classrooms. Wait Time is when we spend some time waiting for an answer and not responding right away to what the person says with our own idea. That listening, that takes time. We ask a question and we listen to the answer with our full attention.

Norah Jones:

We wait and that space, like the space between musical notes, allows for the melody of the person’s life to be heard. Only then after we’ve heard and waited and experienced those spaces, do we then add a bit of our own harmony. We ask, we wait, we listen and we wait a little more to make sure that we’ve heard what the person wanted to say. Then we share, and we look for the other to listen to us too. This is what’s happening when language goes on the road on holiday. When we go to different cultures, be they cultures in our neighborhoods, cultures in our country, cultures outside of our national borders, we will meet people who have stories to tell.

Norah Jones:

They’ll want to hear ours. We want to hear theirs. Let’s give each other the time so that story can be told. One of the things that has happened in this podcast sequence is, we keep tapping on the education for language speaking and language use. One of the stresses and strains that you might very well have experienced yourself as a language learner, or if you’re an educator, as an educator, or if you have never tried to learn language, just trying to speak your own original language. We search for words, we need some time to experience the world enough, to be able to label that world in words.

Norah Jones:

We need some time as we’re thinking to say the right word. Sometimes, we find that right word, but three days after we wish we had it. Well, when we learn languages, the process becomes even more fraught because we are searching for vocabulary and structures we don’t quite know yet. When we go on the road and we go into other people’s cultures. And again, this may be the same language ostensibly, but it’s always going to be someone else’s culture. There’s always new words to learn, new practices to experience. And we have to be able to ask about those, hear what people have to say about those using that wait time. So we get the full effect. And so that our need to understand is also part of that conversation.

Norah Jones:

Anyway, when we go on the road with language and we go into cultures where there are additional languages being spoken, now we have a rich experience of being receptive to brand new ways of saying things, brand new ways of understanding the world. This is a good time to be able to say that those of us that have been in the language profession for a long time, those that understand how languages work, recognize that one can communicate a lot by knowing very few words. Human beings want to connect. We need to connect. We need each other. This is true, whether it’s family, a local culture or globally frankly. We do need each other. So when we go traveling with language, we’re going to come across opportunities to experience speech and culture that we don’t quite understand and we don’t have to know it all in order to be able to participate.

Norah Jones:

The desire to be understood can happen with very few words and it becomes richer and richer and richer the more words we know, the more we understand the structure in which those words are found (we can call that grammar) and especially the more that we understand what the cultural references are to those words. Human beings love to communicate about their lives. So we’re going to go on the road. We’ll take a look at cultures around the world, and we’ll take a bit of a holiday as we experience those cultures. Now here’s what I’m going to do to invite you to participate in that. Go on my website, fluency.consulting.

Norah Jones:

You’ll see how to contact me there. Let me know what it is that you are doing that’s exciting this summer. Perhaps, you want to write a little something about it and share it with me. Perhaps, you’ll record the voices of people that you know and want to share it with me. Perhaps, you’ll have a suggestion for some things that these podcasts have prompted you, that you suggest that I pay attention to and you haven’t told me that yet. By all means, please do tell me. I’m looking forward to seeing your ideas as we continue to unfold what happens in language.

Norah Jones:

And then this fall, we’ll take a look at some new and special kinds of arrangements of language themes, for example, language and literacy at all ages. Language for little ones. Languages across the world. It’s all about language. It’s all about you. You express your identity, express your heritage, express exactly who you are through language. I’m grateful that you’re listening to these podcasts. I look forward to continuing to share these and other ideas with you. And I look forward to you listening, corresponding with me, letting me know if you see me out there in the world or if you listen to the podcast. Go to my website, fluency.consulting and let me hear about your voice. Enter the conversation. Name that superpower of yours. Tell your story and tell how your story helps to illustrate larger issues in all of our lives, because that’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re human. That’s why you have language. It’s all about language. Thanks for listening to the podcast.

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