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– Words don’t have all the answers

April 26, 2013

monkey and sofia blog words don't have all the answers headermonkey and sofia blog words don't have all the answers

Living here, in a foreign country we have realised that it’s necessary to ‘imbibe’ what’s going on around us in a way that wasn’t needed in our own culture.  Language is of course part of the difference but it’s not just words, if it were then steadily learning grammar and vocabulary would be enough, but we have found that it isn’t.  Usage for one thing illustrated that we use lots of phrases in daily life and never think how weird those things might sound when translating them word for word into another language.  And of course, foreign languages too have their own strange turns of phrase.  For example, we might say was are looking forward to seeing someone, where as people here say they are ‘ilusionado’ about seeing someone, which looks like it might have something to do with illusion but in this case obviously doesn’t.  For us it’s like living in a word puzzle, requiring lots of concentration and which can be very satisfying when you discover something new and feel you’ve gained a bit of knowledge or, that finally you have understood something.  But there’s the other stuff, life lived differently, cultural points of reference which refer to things we know nothing about.  Like the last however many years of politicians, public figures, musicians, footballers, TV presenters, artists, authors etc, well known people who have contributed actions or events which form a backdrop to everyday life.  We are at sea without a compass with regard to these types of thing.

Learning to understand a foreign culture and its language is tremendous exercise for the brain; we are constantly looking for clues or meanings from the people we encounter.  Moods, kindness, irritation, shyness or friendliness it can be very tiring and we’re aware of grappling with tiny bits of information and trying to make sense of them.  Over time I think we have developed a kind of telescoping technique of zooming in and out while speaking to people, checking for extraneous information while trying to work out which of the things we are hearing are useful or not so important.

In a way, despite all our gathered experience and expanding vocabulary I get the feeling that we will always be slightly out of step here even with our friends but then, we definitely felt the same way with many people in our own country.  Having certain principles or passions can set you apart so it’s not really so different being here.  Words are one thing, but I think the world’s obsession with language, both spoken and written and the endless chattering and noise all around us can make it difficult for us to really hear what is important, even in our own tongue.  Spoken words have their limitations and their potency has been reduced from overuse.

In a way, language has been given too much value, there must be lots of other ways that we can communicate but have lost the ability over time.  There is a wonderful example of this in the work of Reggio Emilia in Italy and it’s thrilling to see examples of the creativity and inspired work which happens there every day.  Reggio Emilia is the name of a school for young children in Italy which was set up after the war by Loris Malaguzzi and a group of parents from a desire to:

‘ …..bring about change and create a new, more just world, free from oppression…………urging women and men to gather the strength and build with their own hands, schools for their young children’.

Learning in Reggio Emilia centres on the children’s exploration of their world using creativity as their only tool.  They are assisted and enabled in their work by their teachers and parents.  One of the interesting central themes of Reggio Emilia is its acceptance of the ‘hundred languages of children’.  This is a reference to the incredibly diverse ways young children have in communicating before they acquire a full spoken language.  Visit the site and be inspired.

Anyway, thinking of all this stuff about communication, language, both forgotten and acquired, I have begun wondering about nature and how we can understand it.  Maybe in the far distant past we were more connected and were part of the whole environment so could pick up nuances, rhythms and understand their significance.  I’m conscious of letting go of all the complex ways I acquired in communicating and understanding in all those years of work, not just because of the need to create more space in my head but because those skills just doesn’t mean that much here, it’s like a foreign currency, it doesn’t have any value.  Obviously foreign culture and language are things we are growing to understand, however, we are realising that nature’s way of communicating is going to be fascinating to experience and understand.

Over this last week there has been a dramatic change in the weather, literally days ago we had the stove alight and each time we left home we were wrapped in jumpers, jackets and waterproofs to try and keep dry in the endless rain.  Today its 30 degrees, the sun is burningly bright and we have been watering the young trees in pots outside the house.  What can it mean?  Each morning we are treated to an ensemble chorus of every kind of bird as they enjoy the spring and start nesting.  While sitting in our porch a pair of swifts flew back and forth only a foot above our heads, looking for a suitable bit of roof to start building.  We felt honoured by their visit because we’ve never seen swifts around here; they usually stick to the old buildings in the pueblo.  I wonder why this should be.  Is there something we could understand if we had the ability?  The thing is, maybe we don’t understand what is going on around us but it’s fascinating to think that eventually we might and we feel that it’s really worth the effort of giving ourselves over to trying.  We have become accustomed to the sensation that our brains are being exercised in a way which they definitely wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t set out on our journey so maybe, eventually, we will understand more about nature and even discover a way to understand it at a deeper and fundamentally different way than merely thinking about it in words.  I seriously think that the preschool children at Reggio Emilia have something to teach us.

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One Comment
  1. Pauline sent an email in response to this post: “As you say, there are many other ways of communicating. When I walked the dogs after snow, I felt that I was getting a glimpse into their world. They used their noses to learn about things that I would never know. Who had passed by this way, were they male or female, adult or juvenile. In the snow I could see the tracks, but normally it was all unseen by me. With all our highly developed language skills, those dogs knew far more than I ever could. They were also perfectly capable of communicating their needs to me, like staring at every mouthful of food that I ate!”

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