Jhumpa Lahiri's "In Other Words" is an Inspirational Read for English Learners

Jhumpa Lahiri's “In Other Words" is an inspirational read not only for students of Italian but also for English learners. In her book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author describes the beautiful journey that is language learning. The theme of Lahiri's book reminds me of a motto I often repeat to my students: “Fall in love with English. Embrace it with your heart, and immerse yourself not only in the language but also become the person that comes with the new language, a new side of you, perhaps more adventurous or maybe even more timid.” Fully welcome English into your life and don’t get inhibited by your own desire for perfection— an unattainable ideal in itself.

At the center of Lahiri's narrative stands a love affair with Italian that is as bittersweet as any passionate love story full of excitement, setbacks, and the difficulties of courtship. She writes of learning Italian: “When you’re in love, you want to live forever [...] You want the emotion, the excitement you feel to last. Reading in Italian arouses a similar longing in me. I don’t want to die, because my death would mean the end of my discovery of the language. Because every day there will be a new word to learn. Thus true love can represent eternity.”

Lahiri's words echo what I always emphasize to my students learning English, or any new language for that matter. It should never simply be an academic pursuit but a passion that goes deeper than simply memorizing vocabulary and mastering English grammar. Language is a gift, and our ability to communicate is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, it opens new worlds and kicks doors wide open that would have otherwise remained shut; on the other hand, it comes with insecurities and in some people a desire to solely produce perfect sentences which can have a crippling effect on the English learner. This is where the emotional aspect of English/language learning comes in. Our mental barriers are more easily overcome by a complete and utter love for the language you're learning paired with a healthy dose of obsession.

Marike Korn