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10 Ways Language Learning and Peace Education Mix

For many language learners and peace educators, the crossover between the fields of language acquisition and peacebuilding are clear.  Here are 10 of the ways the two lenses complement each other.

1. Communication is key
Language is all about communicating with other people and a peace lens asks how healthy are our patterns of speaking and listening with each other. Are we creating peace with our words?

2. Transformation is at the heart
Learning a new language changes us and makes us see the world differently, which is exactly what is needed to get through difficult times of conflict to build peace. What opportunities for positive change are happening as you learn new ways of talking about the world?

3. Negotiation happens throughout
Dealing with conflict takes good negotiation skills, which are really all about figuring out language and finding common understanding. Language learning gives increased skills in listening and a “tolerance for ambiguity” which helps us sit with it when we don’t understand – both essential for negotiating peace.

4. Stories are told and retold
Learning a new language gives us a chance to tell our stories again and again, and sometimes shape them in a new way. This is also what needs to happen to transform situations of conflict. If we can tell our stories of division and hurt in different ways, sometimes we can make space for the other side’s perspective and maybe even for healing.

5. Bridges are built and boundaries are crossed
Peacebuilding is all about crossing the boundaries of misunderstanding, hate, fear, and hurt. It’s a hard thing to make the journey across, but language learning gives us some of the tools to be vulnerable in bridging differences. With language, we learn bit by bit, trying to find common ground and understanding through careful listening and speaking and in the end find ourselves on the “other side” as a fluent speaker. Building bridges of peace can happen in the same way.

6. Knowhow makes it intentional
Both peace and language are natural for human beings. We don’t need to take special class to know how to relate to others or to talk. But extra training and attention to the processes of peacebuilding or language learning can help us to go further than we might on our own. Learning from the wisdom of others, we can be more intentional in what we’re doing instead of only making it up as we go.

7. Culture is in everything
Culture is a powerful force in both peace and language. We can’t ignore the dynamics of culture in shaping how we think and act in times of conflict and even how we envision peace. Language learning assumes that we’re coming from different cultural points of view and helps us to learn other ways of seeing the world – not as good or bad, just different. This understanding is necessary too, for building peace.

8. Voices are empowered
In situations of conflict, some voices are often pushed aside or left unheard. Language learning is all about empowering new voices to join the conversation. Learning how to speak a new language gives us a chance for our voices to be heard in a different way by new groups of people. Peacebuilding needs insights from language learning to help dominant voices to stop talking to listen and marginalized voices speak up and feel heard.

9. Our spirits are touched
Both language learning and peacebuilding are spiritual journeys in that they affect who we are at the core and they draw on resources beyond our own individual capacities. Learning a new language profoundly shapes who we are and how we define ourselves. It’s challenging to go through this process without having our spirits touched in some way. Building peace is likewise a long and tiresome journey, but with joys along the way that lift our spirits and give us new hope for the future.

10. It’s an ongoing process
There is no end to either language learning or peacebuilding because both are focused on the process. While outcomes and goals are part of the experience, and we have to have a vision of where we want to be, thee true work of language and peace are in the day-to-day decisions and interactions that we make throughout our lives. At some point we look back and say, “Wow, have we ever come far!”

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About clwoelk

Cheryl Woelk is coordinator of Language for Peace and specializes in language and peace education in multicultural contexts. She holds an MA in Education and a graduate certificate in Peacebuilding from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA. Cheryl currently lives in Saskatchewan, Canada with her spouse and son.

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Contributing Author

Cheryl Woelk is coordinator of Language for Peace and specializes in language and peace education in multicultural contexts. She holds an MA in Education and a graduate certificate in Peacebuilding from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA. Cheryl currently lives in Saskatchewan, Canada with her spouse and son.

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