Guest Speech | Zheng Yakun, Fudan University


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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very honored to be the first speaker on the session “Youth for Mutual Understanding and World Peace”. Today our world needs more than ever the mutual understanding between countries and cultures, which is the very cornerstone of international cooperation and our most powerful tool to combat the on-going sanitary crisis, along with other big challenges of the 21st century. As a language learner and someone who is very concerned with the current situation, I would love to share with you my opinions on language learning, which I believe to be an amazing tool in bringing people together and a powerful momentum in our collective journey towards mutual appreciation and world peace.

I grew up in a monolingual family and started to learn first English then French at the age of 12 and 18. To me, the learning process itself is already very rewarding. But what is more important is how these systems of symbols and sounds are able to give me a broader vision of the world. The tricky thing about a language is, when you do not speak it, it is an obstacle and a veil. You can only feel the culture behind it through someone else’s interpretation, which means your perception is always mediated, sometimes manipulated, even completely distorted. But when you speak the language, it becomes a bridge, a cultural passport that allows you to make direct contact and develop your own perspective: no longer behind the veil, the image of the country, its people and its culture becomes so concrete, so full of life, with such abundance of vivid examples of individuals both in real life and in fiction (such as in literature and films). It is impossible to blindly abhor the culture attached to the language one speaks, because what we hate is often the vague, generalized idea of a nation that is imposed by others. When we start to see the nuances and the multi-dimensional nature of different cultures by learning their languages and having an immersive experience, it opens up the possibility to understand and embrace the differences that were once erased and hidden by generalization and stereotypes.

Being able to see this multi-dimensional nature also helps develop flexibility, versatility, and adaptability in ourselves. I’m sure that many polyglots can feel the same: each language brings out a slightly different version of ourselves or even incarnates a part of our personality. At the same time, since each language represents a part of the world, being multilingual could be seen as a way to carry different parts of the world with us and to truly be a “global citizen”. Learning a new language does not dimmish where we come from. On the contrary, we can make it more attractive, more colorful, more fun, by adding a new dimension to it.

To conclude, I would like to quote the famous emperor Charlemagne, who once asserted the amazing power of languages by saying that “to speak another language is to have another soul”. In this age when it is urgent to promote cross-cultural communication, let us take on the responsibility by picking up a new language and creating, in us, a new soul that is ready to embrace the world.

Thank you very much.


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