Traveling through Germanic Languages and History

Learning Other Languages

I’ve been traveling for the past week through Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Munich. I have been trying to listen to as much Dutch and German as possible and collect all sorts of realia to learn more vocabulary. Of course I’ve also been going to educational places like Mini Europe, which I highly recommend for learning more about European Union geography and history.

I returned to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam after 5 years and it was still just as overwhelming, depressing, and humbling as before, yet it remained impossible to not be touched by Anne’s optimistic words in such a dark time. Otto Frank’s remarks on why he started the Anne Frank Foundation – to fight against the prejudice and discrimination of people of different races and religions – is partly the same reason why I learn languages. It’s not just so I can travel around Europe more easily. It’s so I can talk to people who are different from me and learn from them, and hopefully help them if they are being discriminated against because they are “too different” from everyone else.

Tomorrow morning I am going to Dachau, the very first concentration camp. Yet another reason why I learn languages: not merely to learn, but to experience, history. A lot of meaning can be lost in translation and we can never fully understand the how and the why unless we truly understand the language and culture. I know neither the perpetrators nor the prisoners spoke English so why should I only learn the history in English? I want to listen to the victims’ and survivors’ own words, not a translation.

I want to read Anne’s diary in its original version. The words that she actually wrote. When I read Hélène Berr’s diary in the original French last year, it really affected me because I knew the places and dates she mentioned and the significance of them. I could picture her life in occupied Paris until her arrest. It made the diary all the more real to me, instead of simply stories in a book. Anne’s diary is poignant enough in English, but I can only imagine at this point what it must be like to comprehend it in Dutch.

  • Eileen

    I went to Dachau when I was 13. It's unforgettable.

    Your thoughts on reading about the occupation in Paris in French remind me of how I felt watching La Rafle earlier this year. It was uncanny to see the signs in German for landmarks in Paris that I know so well.

  • Andromeda

    It's definitely been an advantage in my studies here to be able to read the original versions of French and Anglophone writers. I feel like there's just some things that can never translate, the feeling just isn't the same.

    It's funny that this is what you posted about, because I just saw this journalist at a book fair, Alex Taylor, and I bought his new book about loving languages and all those “lost in translation” moments. I was thinking of you the whole time he was speaking, lol. I'm not done with the book yet, “bouche bée, tout ouïe”, it's lots of anecdotes and little factoids about different languages, but it's fun to read if you like languages. The cultural aspect of language never ceases to amaze me, knowing the words is never enough, there's a whole mentality and history to learn too.

  • Zhu

    I never visited any of the concentration camps, even though part of my family died there, for being resistant. Must be an unforgettable experience.

  • ielanguages

    Ooh, I need to check that book out. Thanks for mentioning it!

  • Janice

    I wish I could have an opportunity for a European travel, well I have been to several places in Asia mostly fro Southeast Asia and these travel guide info sites had helped me a lot: