The Introvert Fantasy about Language Learning That’s True

Introverts believe learning a foreign language will give them access to friends and social interactions that aren’t possible in their home culture.

That’s actually true, in my experience.

Without getting into tedious definitions and evaluations of what Introversion is, I’m just going to stipulate that, while I’m not shy (shyness isn’t equal to introversion), I am most definitely interested only in quieter conversation not burdened with a lot of B.S. small talk, social posturing, and the like. If you’ve found your way to this blog, you know what I mean.

Living in Japan, the fantasy was immediately true. I didn’t have to hear about politics (unless I asked), religions (unless I asked), sports (I never asked pretty much), or deal with the boring question, “So what do you do?”

Conversations with Japanese people conducted in English were focused on truly interesting avenues of conversation, along which we proceeded carefully and deliberately. Friendships blossomed quickly.

Conversations with Japanese people conducted in Japanese (my Japanese was limited) were focused on basic communication.

Both situations were sweet relief from the cultural constructs one must observe, or at least take into account, in a home culture.

Even conversations in English among native English-speaking foreigners were almost perfectly free of what I call the boring and useless topics: religion, politics, consumerism. As an expatriate, you find everyone, including yourself, behaving, thinking, and conversing with far fewer cultural overlays. You feel like a human being, free of the suit and tie, to so speak, free of your cultural school uniform, for the first time.

The same holds true when living in my home country, the United States, if I’m conversing with foreigners. The silly cultural expectations fall away, if you both let them. Speak in their language (if you can) or in your native language, the result is the same, cross-culturally: human interaction is revealed by triangulation. What do you and that person have in common? Simple humanness.

It’s the rare fantasy which is no fantasy but a true expectation.

So, introverts: learn languages. Speak to foreigners. You’ll find them much more relaxing, accessible, and interesting than people from your home culture. (This is no criticism of U.S. culture, or any other culture, in itself. It’s just that when a culture is yours, it’s going to be loaded with tedious and boring social expectations, most of which go out the window when dealing with sensible and curious people from cultures foreign to yours. And by the way, that’s why they’re talking to you, a mirrored foreigner, in the first place: they’re sensible and curious, just like you.)

 

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