When interculturalist Edward T. Hall says “culture hides more than it reveals and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants”, he talks about the blind spot we all have on our own culture.
What are possible blind spots on our own culture? We can have these blind spots on every aspect of our culture: the way we do things – or don’t do things –, the way we eat, what we eat, the way we greet, how we celebrate things, how we connect with others. Everything that we take for granted and that we consider “common sense” is what can easily become our blind spot. We become aware of this blind spot when someone asks us why we do things that way or questions our way of doing things.
I like to compare this view on culture to the way we view and use our language.
The way we perceive our native language, or the language that we acquired first, can be compared to how we experience our culture. We grow up with it, we don’t question it and find most of it “logic” and natural.
Interestingly, the knowledge most people have of their own language, or their native language, is only partial.
Anyone that doesn’t know foreign languages knows nothing of his own.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Most people become aware of the complexity of their own language only when they learn a new one, or when they are asked to teach their language to others. All of a sudden they become aware of the many registers, the different meanings of words, the many accents there are.
It is only when we reflect about what we know that we become aware of the complexity of our knowledge. Those who acquire multiple languages from a very early stage on, have a great advantage! They are more aware of the variety of options, of words, structures, meanings. They usually have a more developed or fine-tuned metalinguistic awareness.
The same way, if we translate this concept into the cultural sphere: those who grow up in multiple cultures are usually more aware of the many layers and the “hidden” parts or the culture than those who grow up in one culture only.
Those who grow up in different cultures and with multiple languages have undoubtedly a great advantage and make very good interculturalists and multilinguals.
What is your experience with this?
Have you observed some blind spots when learning about a new culture or learning another language?