An important lesson of pulling heartstrings


Mandela 1918-2013 South Africa's Father

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

‒Nelson Mandela


This is one of my favorite quotes about language, due to the fact that I find it to be true over and over again. Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel in Europe with my family. We landed in Germany and visited Austria, where my brother tried to use his high school German and then we travelled through Switzerland on to France, where my younger sister should have been able to use her high school French. Mind you, my siblings never had the love of languages as I did, but learning a foreign language was a requirement under my father’s leadership. I was disappointed that on this trip we had no plans to visit Spain, where my own language skills would have been helpful. But while in France, I discovered that knowing Spanish would be helpful and knowing a few words in French would be beneficial. Whenever I travel I try before I leave to learn a few words in the language where I am going. Words, such as: Please, Thank you, nice to meet you, excuse me, good bye and of course, where’s the bathroom? These few words, phrases and question became important to me on this trip. We stopped at a bed and breakfast type place late at night in Paris. The staff was just closing, but they were kind enough to feed us supper. The waiter came up to my sister, the one that studied French, and asked if she wanted salt and pepper. It was obvious that my sister had no idea what he had said, where I immediately understood. The difference here was the amount of time I spent practicing to understand Spanish while my sister, who was no longer studying French, had only managed to learn a few vocabulary words. The waiter was pleased and relieved that I understood him. The next opportunity where my language abilities came into play was the very next day. We were still in Paris, France when we decided to go shopping. I walked into a store that sold perfume. I was immediately greeted with a barrage of French. I smiled and responded with Bon jour. The clerk nearest me switched to English. We talked a little and when I knew the phrase in French, I used it. Je suis Denise (I am Denise). She smiled and said that my name was French and therefore, I should learn French. I explained that my second language was Spanish, but while in France, I should learn to speak French from the experts. It was noticeable that by understanding the waiter and by using a few simple phrases in French with the clerk that I had not only shown these people respect, but had also tugged at their heartstrings.


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