I have long had a fascination with languages. In high school, I studied Latin for two years and followed that with two years of learning Spanish. When I graduated from Oberlin College in 1971 with an A.B. in Psychology I also had studied the equivalent of a Spanish major including credits earned at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico.
While a graduate student at Ohio State University I marveled at the language fluency of foreign fellow graduate students. I spent 6 months doing research at the University of Bergen, Norway and was humbled by the challenges of learning Norwegian and by how much more about the United States Norwegians knew compared to me! I owe a tremendous debt to all of the international students, faculty, and friends whom I have met the past four decades and who have taught me so much.
A critical component of these limited language learning experiences of mine was having opportunities to be exposed to the literature, theater, art, history, music, food and cultural contexts of these languages. I regret that I never took advantage of the many on and off-campus opportunities to further expand my cross-cultural horizons or learn other languages. I have yet to see convincing empirical evidence that software such as Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, or Babbel lives up to its heavily advertised promises. And Siri and Google Translate (though useful tools), have (sometimes amusing) limitations.
My reading two books, Richard E. Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier’s: The Story of Success, revitalized my interest in relationships between language, thought, culture, and behavior. Richard Nisbett, whom Gladwell acknowledges as a major influence on his thinking that resulted in Gladwell’s Outliers book, was an invited speaker at Carroll University on March 24, 2009.