Last Monday I attended the Annual Induction Ceremony of Phi Sigma Iota, the International Foreign Language honor society founded in 1922 at Allegheny College. This society is a national organization and involves over 50,000 members.
As a member inducted in 2012, I was honored to present some “talent” during the ceremony in representing the German Language Department. Last year, I gave a speech about why we still need to study foreign languages nowadays when English has become the dominating language that is spoken everywhere.
From my understanding, language is not simply a “tool” for translating words. It is a way of communicating meaning and promoting true understanding among people. In the globalized world today, if we want to compete with others, we have to develop skills based on a good knowledge of the person/group with whom we work.
Language opens the door for knowing another culture and another way of thinking, and sometimes translation cannot interpret the logic behind the expression. For example, in Chinese, the word for “crisis” (危機) consists with two “roots”–one is “danger” and the other is “opportunity”. The word involves philosophy and ways of Chinese dialectic thinking. The concept may not be perfectly delivered if it’s a simple translation into another language. Knowing the importance of foreign language, I chose to study German as my third language, and I can tell hours of stories of how much I benefited from learning it.
This year, I decided to play the Guzheng (古箏) I brought from home. Even though it is a Chinese instrument, I still kept the sense of mission in representing German languages in my head, and I made a big big “BMW” sign stuck to the instrument. Hopefully people will remember that not only do I carry my “unusual combinations” everywhere, my instrument does, too!