2014 Hall of Fame Nominee

Robert Patrick

Parkview High School
Lawrenceville, GA
2014 Finalist from SCOLT

Studying and learning a language and the culture or cultures that clothe that language have the power to challenge the individual self into a new state of awareness inviting the learner into expanded personal space. Languages and cultures different from my own have always captured my attention. The sounds, appearances, smells, tastes and textures always stole my attention and led me into something, or the promise of something, larger than my life at the time. In simplest terms, the value of learning language and culture is that both can change the soul of the human being--for the good. I understand the human soul to be the potential self that each person is ultimately becoming. Another people’s language and their cultural clothing invite and challenge my own soul to its full potential.

I recall an early realization that other human beings carried on daily lives in many ways like mine but with words and phrases totally other than mine. There is both an adventure and a terror waiting the learner of a new language. My initial studies introduced me to the adventure: how does this phrase in the second language begin to feel and communicate in me, to me, and through me like English already does for me? I found that question to be my constant companion. I have also, in subsequent years, found myself exhausted after days of speaking a second language, longing to hear English again, feeling that somehow I was losing myself without English, or, to extend the metaphor, that I was being exposed without my native language and its attendant culture clothing me. In both cases, the joy and suffering in the study of the second language expanded my sense of myself.

The cultural clothing of a language reveals the depth of meaning in human communication. The displays of culture, subtle and not so subtle, invite the learner to witness the multivalent attention for which communication calls. Recently during a service telephone call, the service technician told my wife that he could not speak to her. She was “the wife” and he was required to speak with “the husband.” Later, we discussed how this gentleman, sitting in India, speaking English to these two Americans was actually trying to tell us that my name was the primary name on the account and because of that, he could only speak to me about the service. His words were at first cloaked and then revealed by varying cultures. Learning and practicing multivalent attention expands the soul, expands the person. To hear words, their usage, the contexts, who speaks them, and to attend to all of those features in order to understand deeply is both what learning a language and culture can do in a human being and what the mature humanity summons in us. For these reasons I think that it is fair to say that the study of a language and culture can be a significant tool in human spirituality, in human development, in the daily work of human wisdom.