The other day I went to the newly built Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) space in Regent Park, Toronto. Hamid, the host working at the desk , made me feel very welcome. I detected an accent and discovered that he was from Afghanistan. His native language was Dari, which, he explained, is very similar to Farsi.
When I told him I blog for this site he immediately agreed with me about the value in learning new languages. Particularly, that when you learn a new language “you pick up something about the cultures.” This was validation for me, obviously. But he went on to describe the reach of the Dari and Farsi, emphasizing that there is a huge language similarity among people in Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. “Even though they have different accents and words, still they understand each other.”
“If you learn the Arabic alphabet, you’ll cover many countries,” Hamid advised. Certainly the Arabic script would open the doors for understanding many languages in the Middle East – not just Arabic! It made me think that if people in Toronto became acquainted with people from Afghanistan, Iran or Tajikistan and began to learn the language, it would give other countries insight into problems in Afghanistan and Iran. With greater linguistic and cultural understanding we could watch the news from the Afghan or Iranian perspective. Maybe it’s no coincidence that two of the places where Canada has a recently active military engagement (in Afghanistan) or supports strict punitive sanctions (in the case of Iran) share languages.
What can we learn about cultures by experiencing language? Maybe we can discover some supervening quality about the problems in Iran and Afghanistan with a deeper understanding of the language in those places. Toronto might be the perfect place to start that project.
At CSI Regent Park I appreciated Hamid’s hospitality and felt like I was just beginning on a long road toward learning Dari. It’s incredible what you can learn, even during a brief encounter, in Toronto.