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FEB. 29, 2016

The 3 Languages We Can All Learn

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Marlin Sill, Wilderness Program Director

There are many barriers in our minds that can prevent us from taking the leap to traveling to new and unfamiliar places.  I know when I started thinking about journeying to Israel for the first time, I was terrified.  Every other place I’d traveled up until that point I felt prepared to visit and explore.  Israel would be the first place where I would be alone.  Where I would not be able to read, speak, or understand the language.  In fact, it was an alphabet totally foreign to me.  Even the culture, though I am Jew-“ish”, didn’t seem like something familiar or relatable.  But, nonetheless, I went for it anyway. And I did it with a specific mindset; call it a rule if you will, that I made for myself somewhere in my mid twenties.

I would like to share with you a tip for anyone traveling, anywhere, for any reason, at any time.  You do not necessarily need to speak the native language, or be terribly familiar with where you are going…EVER.  In fact, there are really only 3 things I feel you must be able to do in order to conquer any language/cultural/distance/traveling barriers.  In fact, of the 3 things I am about to tell you, you really only need to be really good at 2.  Proficiency with all 3 is best, but being darn good at 2 will get you where you need to go.  Are you ready?  These are my 3 international, speaks to all souls “Languages” that transcend all cultures and will help you connect wherever you go: The ability to create music, the footwork and flair for dance, and the taste and palate to cook.


Let me explain a bit more.  For those who can sing or play an instrument, you will quickly realize that we live in a time where technology has spread music all around the globe.  That famous opening riff to “Hotel California” will likely raise eyebrows and likely incite others to sing along.  And even if you can’t find a common song to play or sing, harmonies and melodies tend to have innate emotions that allow you to communicate sadness, anger, joy and excitement.  Even the act of just playing music is enough to connect humans beyond the verbal realm.  So learn to sing, or pick an instrument.


For those who may not be so inclined to creating music, the ability to follow it can help break the language barriers.  Like music, dancing and its motions carry emotion and often raise endorphin levels, bringing smiles and laughter (a true universal language).  If you have the ability to follow engage and move with others to music, you will quickly find that just the act of releasing energy with others is enough to speak to them.  Any cultures still use forms of dance in their cultural rituals, and even in daily life.  Be ready to shake it off, and even ready to bring your own moves to the floor, just be sure to keep the moves culturally conservative.


Unlike, music and dance, cooking is a different art.  And when I say cooking, I also include the idea that you should have an open enough palate to be able to try and incorporate new flavors into your life.  Many cultures see eating as a community and family experience, where they can share in the joy of nourishment.  And when you are far from home, you will often find that the best way to tell others about yourself, is to show who you are through cooking and bringing what you can of your culture to theirs.  Keep in mind that some cultures find it rude for guests to alter dishes that have been prepared, so be ready to eat things as they are served, and don’t forget to bring some treat to connect your heritage to them.

So next time you discount the idea of traveling to Sweden, or Asia, remember that language is just one barrier.  That culture truly defines other places, and that you ability to be open to things that define culture, like music, dance and food, will more often than not, speak far more than the words you learned on duolingo.  And don’t forget, these are all things that are great things to do in your “normal” life.  They are the things that make life rich and vibrant, and will bring color and joy to wherever you go.

Marlin Sill, Wilderness Program Director