The Random Writings of Rachel: Heart Language

Heart Language


 Just Angel being Angel.

Today, I've got a real life illustration about the power of one's heart language. I know, I know, random topic for a random blog. I've mentioned many times my interests in linguistics and language education. When it comes to studying languages and the effects of learning multiple languages, you'll sometimes come across the idea of "heart language"--the concept that one's native language has a special importance--that it's easier to learn and understand and truly comprehend deep truths in your native language than in any other, that no matter how well-educated in that language you might be, your heart language tends to always play a special role for you.

I can see this playing out in my own life. I'm a native English speaker, who only started studying Mandarin and Spanish as an adult. I may love those languages and I may eventually become very skillful in those languages, but I know I'll never have the same relationship with those languages that I have with English. For me, I'm still at the point where a day completely immersed in a community that doesn't speak English is extremely draining--a complete contrast from the comfort I experience when I'm surrounded by English.

Angel's a different story. He started learning English in kindergarten and has attended English schools and lived in a primarily English-speaking country his entire life. To speak to him in English, you wouldn't be able to guess that he wasn't a native speaker. However, he's also a native and educated Spanish speaker--and every once in a while I notice hints about the identity of his heart language. It's telling that the songs he believes are the most powerful and stirring and romantic are all Spanish and that some of the books he looks back on as the most memorable books he's read in a lifetime are written in Spanish.

But recently, I had a very little moment with him that, to me, epitomized what "heart language" really means.

I was reading The Reptile Room in Spanish while Angel was sitting on the other side of the couch reading a different book. I love Lemony Snicket, with an almost illogical kind of love. He's one of the biggest inspirations to me as a writer. On more than one occasion I've tried to convince Angel of his genius, and I've even looked up websites listing all of the famous "Dear Beatrice" dedications from the beginnings of all 13 books in the Unfortunate Events series and read them to him so that he can know how brilliant Lemony Snicket is. I've never really gotten any response to my attempts to convince him, though, mostly he's just like, "Yeah, whatever, that's mildly amusing...." , so as I was reading this book and occasionally asking Angel the meaning of a word or two that stumped me, I had an idea. I turned to the dedication page. "Listen to this," I said, and read aloud, "Para Beatrice, mi amor por ti vivira para siempre. Tu, sin embargo, no lo hiciste." [I believe the English is: For Beatrice, my love for you will live forever, you, however, did not."]

The difference in reaction was drastic and immediate. His eyes lit up as I finished reading that sentence, and he threw back his head and started laughing out loud. "Oh man, that's hilarious! I have to take a picture of that!" he said, grabbing his iPod. He took a photo of the dedication and posted it on his Facebook page, with the caption, "Chistoso!"

I was never able to get my husband to understand why I loved the Snicket books so much until I read him a single line in Spanish, and that was when everything clicked.

There's something special about that heart language. And here's my plea: When you hear other people speaking their heart language to each other, don't reject them or tell them that they ought to converse in your heart language instead. I support multi-lingual education and I think great things could happen if more of us spoke 2 or 7 languages...but I also believe that great things can happen when people are allowed to learn, become literate, and experience the most precious aspects of life in their heart language.

29 comments:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. As I've mentioned a few times, Mr. A's mom is Korean. She told me that when her mother came to the US, the schools told her that she could only speak English. As a result, she no longer speaks her native tongue. Which is so sad if you think about it. Mr. A is now trying to teach himself Korean, and I can't help but wonder how much more simple the process would be if his mom and grandmother spoke Korean as well.

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  2. What a sweet post. I knew a lot more Spanish and American Sign Laungage from several courses in high school and college but because I didn't practice them around those speaking the Laungage/deaf or hard of hearing it became difficult to retain what I learned, but at least I know the basics and concepts to get by if I did encounter them. My dad has spent years learning Mandarian (due to my Chinese siblings, the Chinese Christian church my dad attends some) and I must say it is a task but rewarding one. I am glad you are learning these but realizing the heart language too. Rachel xo

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  3. Lemony Snicket is complete genius! Haha that is too funny that you read those books as well, I was obsessed with them as a child. I even got the "unauthorized biography of Lemony Snicket" to try and figure out the whole Beatrice mystery before the last book came out.

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  4. I totally agree to with the point you make! I'd never heard about heart languages before this!
    I'd almost say that I have two heart languages. Lullaby's were always sung to me in German, and all the kids songs I know are in German, since my mum spoke to me in the language as she stayed home with me until I went to school. But then I stopped speaking it and now English is most definitely my heart-language. That said, German holds a special childhood place in my heart, and English kids songs and stories just don't seem right to me. It's like there's a very clear line at 5years old where it shifted.

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  5. this is so interesting! I can definitely see how the same thing written in our own language just has such a different and more personal meaning.

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  6. That's so sweet! And so true. I miss my days of tutoring ESL and seeing the passions of different cultures.

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  7. What a fantastic illustration of this! I loved it!

    Like your husband--- I speak two language fluently (English and German) and am currently raising my toddler bilingually as well. I am not sure what language will end up being her "heart language" (I think mine is English), but like you I definitely recognize the beauty and the importance of multilingualism…

    ~Alexis Grace of North On Harper

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  8. I've never heard of this term before, but after you explained it, it makes complete sense. This is such a thought provoking story, and I'm so glad you shared!

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  9. That is great, Rachel. I know you must be so excited over your breakthrough! That is something we can not do enough of- reading together. Right now, I am still trying to catch him up on old movies- old movies, new movies, classics, and anything Disney. Poor thing didn't see his first Disney movie until we met!

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  10. Aw, what a sweet story. I never thought about how a person's native language would affect their appreciation (or not) of certain books.

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  11. Excellent post! Just one minor point, this story shows that the translator was very skilled. He or she would need to be, to put Lemony Snicket's genius into another language.

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  12. This is such a great post! What a sweet story!!
    www.amemoryofus.blogspot.com

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  13. What a perfect illustration of heart language! Thanks for sharing. I'll be keeping this in mind when I hear others speaking a language I don't understand.

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  14. My mother and step-father are both bi-lingual- Korean being their first/heart language. They go back and forth between Korean and English when my sister and I are with them, because we don't speak Korean- and it's always so interesting. I asked my mom once if her thoughts were in English or Korean and she says she thinks in Korean, processes it and then speaks in English.

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  15. Izzy's family, being Puerto Rican, speak Spanish so I totally understand where you're coming from with this. Very interesting and beautifully thought out post!

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  16. Love this! My husband also is a native Spanish speaker and I've always noticed that his favorite movies, quotes, books, and songs are all in Spanish, even though he is primarily surrounded by English most of his day. And when he talks in his sleep, it's always in Spanish, haha!

    Great post!

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  17. I had never heard of the term "heart language". It is true that words and language can be so powerful. Thanks for introducing me to this term! Side note: As an adult learner, what methods do you find work best to learn a new language? I only speak English, but I would love to learn a second language!

    Thanks for sharing this post!

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  18. I found this article very interesting Rachel. And I agree about your idea of "heart language". I am a bi-lingual person as in I am very fluent in both English and Albanian. However, I have an affinity for foreign languages and learn them quickly. I am pretty fluent in Italian and I also know some Spanish, French and Greek. Living in US for pretty much half of my life, I consider many things in English now. Plus English is such a broad language, so many terms come to me quicker on it. Also it's funny because my dreams are bi-lingual too. LOL

    I will definitely be raising Vivian bi-lingual as well. She has no choice =D. When she grows up and goes to school, I also want her to learn a third language.

    Anyway, longest comment ever. =D Pardon my ramblings. But seriously I loved this random but very thought-out post of yours. Happy Hump Day!!

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  19. great post and perspective on languages. i agree with you! i sort of learned two languages at once, and i have equal love for both. it's hard to explain, but i think i have two heart languages.... :-)

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  20. I loved this post. I speak three different languages but my heart would always speak what my native language is. It's not any wrong feeling but a real one :)

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  21. I love this. So much truth. I only speak english but I know a bit of spanish and a bit of french and a bit of Farsi from my childhood. But there are truths that transcend even language! :)

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  22. I love this story! Isaiah and I have been trying to decide on a language to learn for quite a while. We're torn between French, Spanish, and something way off the charts, like Hebrew. ;)

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  23. Very true - people are the most comfortable in their native languages and that's just how humans are wired. I agree if we were all multi-lingual it'd be great for the world, we'd gather better understanding of another culture because learning a language isn't just linguistics, it's culture. Happy Hump Day Rachel! -Iva

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  24. I love this. I can carry a conversation in Spanish, but only to get me so far. I wish schools taught from early childhood all different languages. Could you imagine the barriers that would break down? That's a great picture of Angel too!

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  25. I truly love this. I speak a little Spanish and a little Fr I know it like an old friend. No matter how beautiful I find other languages I don't know that I could ever have the same relationships with them as I do with English. English allowed me to communicate with other through speech and writing. It allowed me to read and to study and to explore far away places and mythical worlds. Living in Southern California, I come into contact with a lot of English Second Language learners and a lot of people who feel that living in America means assimilating and leaving your past behind. I disagree. I know that if I were living somewhere where English wasn't the official language I would find solace in speaking it and hearing it.

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  26. Thank you for sharing this! I don't really have any experience in regards to it, but I totally agree that learning other languages is so important! I just wish it was easier to learn them! ;)

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  27. I think speaking a language is as important as writing it, or in whatever you do, do your best. Although it may take time to perfect speaking English, it is best to try it without the "bahala na" way of thinking.

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  28. I am really sure it will be good post.

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