India, Syria, Lebanon, the Philippines and the United States. Those are the countries of origin represented at our neighbor's home where we had dinner and wine on a recent Saturday night. Although we mostly avoided political conversation, we did talk about life and culture in these various countries.
Of the nine people there, five are immigrants. All legal. All now American
citizens. All college educated and employed in professional jobs. One lived
through war in Lebanon. One has lived in at least two other countries. All five
speak more than one language. They all love our country and all are
appropriately critical of certain aspects of life here, as they should be. All
love the freedom to be opinionated. All are grateful for the opportunities they
have here. All are concerned about some family members who still live in their
home countries and are sometimes mildly concerned about their own safety here.
That is some awesome perspective and I enjoy discussing their take on issues
One thing that strikes me every time I get to know someone from another country
is their multi-lingualism. Our American culture is such that most of us, at
least those of the boomer era, only speak one language: American English. I do
believe a country is more unified when there is a dominant language but I also
believe the reality of our increasingly global world is such that we should
speak other languages too, so we can better understand and communicate with our
brothers and sisters around the world. (Side note: do other languages have run
on sentences like that last one?)
I began language lessons in four other tongues at times in my life, yet I still
only speak English. It's one of my few regrets in life. We're never too old to
learn another language but it is definitely more difficult to do so as we grow
older. If I had stuck with it, I'd be fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and
Latin. Latin isn't really a spoken language but studying it could help with
learning the other three.
Many articles on creative aging point to the mental advantages of learning a
new language. Different parts of the brain are stimulated by such a pursuit,
potentially delaying or even reversing dementia. In addition, conversing with
someone in another language can be a stimulating social experience.
Two of my dinner companions the other night speak French. That conversation
could be fun. One of them also speaks Spanish, another language I could have
learned. Italian isn't very practical on a day-to-day basis but it connects to
my family heritage as well as a bucket list vacation item.
Meanwhile I enjoy the perspective of spending time with friends who are rooted
in cultures other than mine. The perspective is priceless.