Episode 108: Light a Fire

It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 108: Light a Fire

What’s your spark? How do you speak about your identity, your purpose, your gifts? Use your language to breathe life into your unique ember, and join with others to light a fire to warm the world. Humanity and hope: it’s about language.

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So my husband and I got married some decades ago. And when we got married, we decided we wanted to build our own house. This was after several years of living in a trailer on a farm. So we went to a house building course and we built our own home by hand. It took us two and a half years and we had help from friends and we had help from family. but it was quite an enterprise.

And we wanted it to be as non-invasive of the environment as possible. So we put in, among other things, a wood stove, and that’s how we heat our home during the cold months. A wood stove.

And I was thinking about my wood stove and thinking about how it relates in its experience of bringing us warmth to what I’ve been doing here with my podcast. I wanted to share that with you a little bit.

You know, I have been providing here these last two and a half, almost three years, now, podcasts about many gatherings of language-oriented professionals and language enthusiasts.

Those podcasts have been sometimes arranged around geography. For example, in this case, my own home state of Virginia, which has the Foreign Language Association of Virginia, the sound of the title is FLAVA. And in episode 85, I visited FLAVA, as is my habit for these decades, and recorded excited teachers, administrators, and even those that are coming to support the language enterprise, exhibitors and folks that are engaged in varieties of businesses…. and had a chance to talk to each one and hear their individual enthusiasm.

Along with state, I’ve been to regional conferences. Specifically I’ve been to SCOLT, the Southern Conference on Language Teaching, which takes in some 13 states and the Virgin Islands. And Virginia is a member of that. And in Episodes 66 and 68, we went to SCOLT and listened to the various people that were presenting there.

And I had a chance to interview Leslie Baldwin in various ways as an Executive Director and as a supervisor of this regional organization to get the excitement of this particular group.

I did a similar work with the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in episodes 55 and 56.

And I had a similar experience with a national conference, specifically ACTFL. In episode 89, I interviewed Celia Zamora, who’s involved with the professional development there and got a sense of the excitement of that particular geographically-based, in this case nationally- and internationally-based, gathering of people. And in episode 105 I had a chance to talk with Kathy Shelton, who’s putting the conference together. I’m looking forward to being able to share some voices from that national scene as well.

So those are geographic ways that people have come together.

And I’m especially focusing there in that case on the individuals that came with their fire, came with their ideas, came with their hopes of being able to share something. Sometimes they came with their anticipation of would their sharing be worthy, and also with their excitement of learning from others. They brought that fire to the geographic gatherings of language professionals and enthusiasts.

I’ve also been to those various kinds of organizations in which the ideas pull folks together, not as much as the geography, still language, of course, but this time even more specified….For example, in episodes 75, 76, and 74 [actually 77], I went to the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, AATSP, and had a chance to speak to the individuals that were there to express their joy in the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese… the cultural and linguistic excitement. They were on fire for that. Listen to those episodes if you have not yet.

In episode 107, I spoke with Megan Diercks of the American Association of Teachers of French about the excitement that organization comes in from. One day, maybe I’ll get a chance to go to Quebec or wherever AATF is meeting and be able to record the French teachers, those engaged with French education and publishing, and pull that together, that fire.

I’ve been to meetings of — because I’m on the board of, but have also participated in various ways before I came on the board of — JNCL-NCLIS, the Joint National Council on Languages…and that organization is arranged around the focus of advocacy for languages, advocacy for the study of languages, for the teaching of languages, for travel with language, for study abroad, for equity of access for languages for children, young and old, for adults. I have had an opportunity to be able to hear that fire talking to them about what it is that makes advocacy so important.

And we heard a lot of those in the panels. So bringing together not just the individuals one by one like say Amanda Seewald in episode 88 about JNCL, and then bringing panels together to get a variety of names and a variety of visions and a variety of approaches and a variety of insights through their own experiences that have come through language.

In what I call the Heritage Month April of 2022, specifically episodes 60, 61, 62, 63, which brought folks from all over the world to talk about topics having to do with heritage studies and advocacy and culture and being able to bring the opportunities to and raising the awareness of why we should bring opportunities to those that have heritage languages and cultures in their background.

I spoke specifically with Joy Payton, who was my cohost for those four heritage episodes in episode 81. And I went to the celebration with the International Heritage Language Association, which is in Edmondton, Alberta, Canada with Antonella Cortese went to the Festival of Mother Language Day and recorded her and information about how heritage feels then to young people, to their parents, to their teachers, and to the world as a jump-off place from those panels in episode 95, 96, and 97.

In other words, In the past, I’ve taken a look at the individuals that are on fire for specific things having to do with language and what it makes a difference in people’s lives. In young people’s lives when they study it, in adults when they use it, in the nature of the cultural experience, the impact of language.

In the upcoming months, you’ll be hearing more opportunities to take a look at panels on language experiences and issues and worldwide challenges that are going to be bringing in panelists and partners that I have now with businesses and institutions who have specific voices that they know can make a difference in you hearing it, you being able to hear those stories and come to conclusions and take action for yourself.

Now, why have I been doing all of this? Why have I been going to these groups or bringing these panels in for these recordings?

Well, I have already mentioned in some previous episodes that when COVID took over our planet in the spring of 2020, I was concerned both personally and professionally that I would have my flame go out by being isolated. And I realized too from the kind of reading and watching that we were all probably engaged with trying to figure out what was going on… realizing that this was an aspect of a fear and loneliness and isolation that were happening to a lot of people.

You probably yourself experienced not only feeling cut off but also in danger. And I know that I had some dear friends and dear colleagues whose own health or whose health or even the passing of beloved family members and friends happened during this terrible time of separation and plague.

I was afraid of our fire going out.

So I started a podcast to keep myself sane and to keep my friends sane and connected to me. I didn’t want to lose them. I wanted to give them a chance to talk.

And I thought, while I’m at it, I want you to hear them. I want you to have a sense of when you hear their story and their interest and their excitement that you can rekindle your own.

As the podcast progressed, I myself was learning. Isn’t that the way it works for us? We don’t necessarily decide what it is that’s going to happen with something in the long distance. I have discovered that the more I make plans for far down the road, the less likely I am to be able to reach those paths.

But if I say today, this week, right now, this year, I see in front of me this path to connect, for example, by doing something I never thought about before, a podcast, that as I watched the podcast progress myself, as the time continued, I recognized that I was learning more about that language, that culture, that experience of heritage, that experience of our identity, that experience of the need to connect as I was being the host.

I brought together a language community and others added the language community to me and thus to you.

We had a chance to bring in people that I could see because I record these podcasts, although they’re audio, by seeing people through the video, if not face to face. That I can see that the excitement and the interest and the being touched in their own being is happening. And they’re recognizing again, there, as I’ve said earlier in my experiences with this podcast and shared with you over these years, they’re rediscovering their own superpower.

So I wanted to connect. And those are some of, indeed, the episodes that I have brought to us, bringing people as individuals and then bringing them together.

You know, I once took a year-long coaching experience. And there was a reference to something I know that is not just found in that particular coaching experience. It’s called Your Own Perfect Novel.

This experience of doing the podcast, after having had years of teaching in a language classroom, supervising in language districts, being in and leading organizations, going into world language educational publishing, being on boards of such advocacy organizations as, for example, JNCL, that all of this kind of perfect novel of my life was unfolding.

See if there’s anything that resonates with you and your own individual unique experience like this because I was an introvert. I am an introvert. But language and the connections through language have always fascinated me.

When I was a kid, I was not taught my heritage language from my father. More stories on that upcoming. But when I got into middle school, which is frequently where it is that language begins for us in the United States, I took Spanish and I was hooked. And then when I got to high school, I added Russian, much to the objection, I should say, of my guidance counselors. But nevertheless, I really wanted to do it. And it really was awesome.

And even though I’m an introvert, I wanted so much to share the fire of my interest with others.

Now, frankly, the Spanish club was doing just fine being a big old group of people. And as an introvert, I wasn’t necessarily as engaged with that, but I did participate strongly in the smaller but mighty Russian club.

But then something happened. This is why I talk about the perfect novel of our lives. They’re little chapters like this. Then, I thought, but I’m not just interested in Russian, and I’m not just interested in Spanish, these are all part of a bigger connection around the world.

Now, at high school age, I’m not sure that I was as advanced as some of the young people that I know exist now and are in school at high school level who have thought through all of the permutations of what society needs. And I congratulate those young people. If you’re one of my listeners, keep going! I didn’t necessarily have that particular level of insight. But what I did want was to make bigger connections than just Russian, just Spanish. And then as I began to visit my family in Croatia. just Croatian.

So I established, much to my surprise because of my typical passivity, I established the International Club.

Even then, as now, we know, my friends, we know that many people do not join in, but the invitation can be there.

Many young people in my high school did not join language clubs, though many did. It was a big high school, and it was just one of the many things that young people could do. But there were some. And so there was a pretty good proportion in the “one concept club,” kind of like the geography or the special interest I was talking about with my podcast. There were quite a few people in the specific language clubs, and there were quite a few languages in my high school. I went to high school in Fairfax County, Virginia, which had quite a few choices, and clearly some flexibility, even if I had to take them down to the mat just a little bit for two languages at once.

The smallest of the clubs, I would say, was my International Club that I established. And I don’t think it was because of my personality. I think it was because that sense of we’re all in this together dials down to even, if you might say it this way, a smaller proportionality of the bell curve of the population.

But that’s what this podcast is about.

It’s about language. It’s about the human miracle. It’s about the everyday miracle of language when we wake up that most humans are given access to. It’s about language’s voice. We’re all in this together.

Now, I had planned when I went to college on majoring in anthropology, no question, but literally the first day of my freshman year, language ambushed me again. And I will tell you that linguistic ambush story with a complete performance that I think you might find a little bit intriguing in a future episode. But I can tell you that there was joy in that.

And because I couldn’t make up my mind, and because I had just wonderful professors and an indulgent college, I majored in a mixture of languages and history and government and art and geography, and then for my master’s degree in linguistics itself.

For me, as an individual now, language pulls it all together. So, when I felt cut off, language reaching out this way was all I could think of. It was part of the progression of my perfect novel, my protagonist continuing down a pathway that, well, it seems ordained.

Thus the central message of this podcast: Language, I repeat, is our central human miracle.

When you look inside right now, right now as you’re listening, you will know that language is how you are defining yourself. The words that you speak to yourself about your skills, your ability, your worth, your identity, your connections, your possibilities, your purpose. That’s all in language.

It is my hope. It is my dream. It is the plan. It is my ongoing effort to make sure that this podcast keeps bringing that as an invitation to you to consider all of those positives and to bring yourself up and out, to enter the conversation, to know what your superpower is, and then to turn to others, and to help them to find it too.

You yourself have that sphere of influence that my guest Jenny had spoken about in an episode back, which we’ll talk about some more. And that sphere of influence is where we are able to make a change in people’s lives. So I’m inviting you to reach out through language for that communication and connection also.

You know, let’s go back to my wood stove. Whether you know wood stoves or campfires or just videos of them that people will have on their wall to bring in the visual warmth of a fire in the wintertime, we know this fact. We know that if you have one stick of wood that is on fire for a while, but it remains by itself…. one lump of coal, not that many people use coal anymore, one ember… it can be on fire for a little while by itself.

But if you want warmth, if you want a true fire, you have to add wood to the single piece of kindling. You have to give it some air, some space, but especially you have to give it additional wood, additional coal, additional embers.

Why have I been bringing conferences onto this podcast? Because the individual voices that you have heard or that you potentially have contributed to (thank you if you’re listening as a guest) you have contributed to the whole fire that warms the world.

We cannot warm the world as an individual stick except for a very short period of time.

We know, we hear, and perhaps you yourself are engaged in, the loneliness, the separation that is plaguing so many of our people in this world and each country for varieties of reasons.

But this podcast and this invitation to light a fire today comes to you in order to say, take your own fire, your own identity, your own uniqueness, your own interests, your own superpower, and connect it with others.

If it feels hard, go ahead and try to do it a little bit and bring that energy or see how that energy comes into your life. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it should be a start. Put your fire together with others. When we come together, we set… larger fire ablaze to accomplish warming and lighting the world.

That’s what my wood stove reminds me of. That’s what this podcast is designed to do.

Think about your own experience. Think about your own connections.

Maybe you’re listening as a person that is connected up with a group that knows something about how language, culture — language lives in culture — how any aspect of this, because this is a wide human specific experience… f you’re engaged with something where you know there’s a story here that can help others, write me. Let me know about it. Let’s connect that fire to others. Let’s encourage a world that can get discouraged. But when we pull our stick out of the fire, that’s what happens, the energy goes out. Let’s not let the energy go out.

I come to you again with an invitation to keep listening to It’s About Language, to let others know that it’s here, so that the cumulative storytelling about language and in language and through the experiences of the people engaged with language, which is all humans, that these particular choices are an opportunity for them to hear themselves, to reflect on their own story, their own perfect novel, their purpose — your purpose, your experience, your offering.

Connect with me, fluencyconsulting@gmail.com. Go to my website, fluency.consulting. Listen to the podcast. Take a look at resources. Connect with me there, fluencyconsulting@gmail.com, fluency.consulting for my website.

And remember that the purpose of this podcast is to tell the stories of how language changes all of us as the human expression, both individually and collectively.

This is our human miracle. This is your gift. Help me, help us all to understand how you’re expressing this gift. Share this gift if you desire, please, and stay connected because only when we’re connected can we set the world on fire.

Let’s light a fire for good.

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