Language is the most important component of culture. It would be impossible
to catch the subtlest nuances and meanings of other cultures without knowing the language.
Learning a second, third or fourth language is easier in early childhood
than at an older age. It is particularly important to learn correct pronunciation when a person is young. At any
age, learning by constant contact with native speakers in their own society is the quickest and best way. It is superior
to taking foreign language classes because it forces you to concentrate on it all of the time. In addition, you are
immersed in the culture and learn it simultaneously. This immersion approach can be psychologically stressful, but it
is an effective way of getting the new language patterns into long term memory. Young children learn their native language
in just this way, since they are surrounded by parents who essentially speak a "foreign" tongue. People tend to perform mental
tasks with the language in which they learned them.
Communication is far more than speech and writing. Most of us are unaware
that we are communicating in many different ways even when we are not speaking. The same goes for other social animal
species. We rarely learn about this mostly non-verbal human communication in school even though
it is very important for effective interaction with others. Growing up in a society, we learn how to use gestures, glances,
slight changes in tone of voice, and other auxiliary communication devices to alter or emphasize what
we say and do. We learn these highly culture bound techniques over years largely by observing others and imitating them.
Linguists refer to all of these auxiliary communication devices as paralanguage.
It is part of the redundancy in communication that helps prevent ineffective communication.
It can prevent the wrong message from inadvertently being passed on, as often is the case in a telephone call and even more
so in a letter. The paralanguage messages that can be observed through face to face contact also makes it more difficult
to lie or to hide emotions. Paralanguage is often more important in communication than what is actually being said orally.
It has been suggested that as much as 70% of what we communicate when talking
directly with others is through paralanguage.
The most obvious form of paralanguage is body language.
The human communication process is more complex than it initially seems. Most of our messages are transmitted
through paralanguage. These auxiliary communication techniques are highly culture bound. Communication with people
from other societies or ethnic groups is fraught with the danger of misunderstanding if their culture and paralanguage is
unknown to you or ignored.