Why are exposure to foreign cultures and the learning of languages essential for tolerance?


Learning a language is much more than learning grammar rules and vocabulary. Not only does the learning of a foreign language allow you to communicate with native speakers (it is already magic!), but moreover, it allows you to discover a different culture and to become somebody else because the goal is to make efforts to integrate a new community and to respect its traditions.

Language teachers are exploiting multiculturalism more and more, it is essential to understand your own culture better and notice the differences and common points with the targeted culture to adapt your gestures to the rituals of a community. This approach prevents you from making faux-pas and unconsciously teaches you respect because you want to be accepted by the members of this community.

Trying to integrate into a community can be done in your own country without having learnt a foreign language before. For instance, if you’re invited to a party at friends’ who have another nationality and culture, you will tend to taste the traditional dishes, to listen to some music in a foreign language, and to follow some important traditions for the host community. Consequently, this event is an opportunity to live a rich cultural experience which will create a strong link between you and this culture that you could discover sharing good moments.

Traveling is another means of having cultural and linguistic experiences. You discover a new environment, the local population, you can hear the language of the country, and you try to understand what is written around you. Day after day, you adapt to a new rhythm, a new way of living some situations and, with time, you learn how to integrate into a new community. For example, first, you try to have information about the tip you should leave in a café or in a restaurant and you want to know if it’s necessary to cancel your tickets before taking the train… When you have understood these things, you will feel more and more comfortable where you are and if you speak the language of the country and can make friends there, you will even have the feeling that you’re a citizen of this country!

This feeling can be accentuated if you master its language and its phrases. When you understand the working of the society, the interests, the worries of the population, and when your native friends almost forget that you’re not one of their compatriots and don’t need to make efforts to communicate with you.

There are different ways of traveling. Some people go to foreign countries to stay in a hotel. These people don’t have real contact with the local population and can only have a limited and stereotyped view of their holiday destination.

Being willing to go towards others and having empathy are essential to have a successful experience abroad. Contact with the population changes your vision of the country, of the world, and allows you to have another point of view about your own country and to become more open-minded.

Open-mindedness can be difficult to live when you go back to your home country. You may remember the reaction of Xavier, in the movie L’Auberge Espagnole, when he goes back to Paris after an Erasmus exchange in Barcelona. He realizes that he has evolved while the people he meets have stayed in their comfort zone and have not lived a strong international experience.

Why do some people go towards the others and want to learn from them while other people do not take any risk and only stay with their own community?

Education and the learning of empathy at an early stage of life can be responses to this question. Indeed, differences can sometimes be frightening but it’s important to learn how to tame them.

The motto of the EU is United in Diversity, a real tolerance lesson! One of the goals of the EU is the learning of two foreign languages (minimum) by all its citizens and there are many programs to study and work abroad. Everybody knows the current problems of the EU but these diversity measures could be really good if they were applied by most of its citizens. Of course, the ideal would be that everyone in the world could live a maximum of international experiences in their life to become more open-minded and tolerant.

As a conclusion, being with different communities, traveling, and learning foreign languages are key-elements to create respect for others and to understand that communicating can bring a fundamental value. An education turned toward others, exchanges, and the learning of languages and cultures could diminish some current worldwide issues like racism, xenophobia, conflicts between communities, and even some wars.

It is by understanding others that we can discuss and have a chance to neutralize tensions. It is by taming the differences that we can imagine a more peaceful future.


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