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What if we referred to other countries in their own language?

Flags Photo by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash
Photo by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash

I always thought it strange that we refer to other countries by their name in our language rather than their language. After all, we generally call other people by their name in their language. But when it comes to countries, we say France, not le France. And, conversely, the French say, Les États-Unis, not the United States.

Call me impractical or unrealistic, but I think this small shift in referring to other countries by name in their languages could go a long way toward improving the world.

1. Increase cultural appreciation

There are so many beautiful foreign languages out there that most U.S. students will probably never be exposed to apart from the more widely offered French, Spanish, and Mandarin. We might mention countries, such as Finland or Egypt, in passing but never hear a word of Finnish or Arabic. Along with appreciation, I would hypothesize that using other countries’ languages when referring to those countries could have the complementary effect of increasing sensitivity and respect for foreign cultures.

when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally — Greenheart.org

2. Increase cultural and linguistic curiosity

If you’re exercising a small part of foreign languages every day, your interest might prompt you to learn more about the country’s culture and language. It might even inspire you to visit the country or make a concerted effort to learn more of the language. The more people know about other cultures, the more they become invested in the world’s general welfare, not just their own country. Conversely, this practice might even help decrease cultural appropriation: a sometimes well-intentioned, but insensitive practice.

3. Increase open-mindedness

As the adage goes, you don’t know what you’re missing….until you try it. I think regularly using other languages, even just when referring to other countries’ names, would inevitably make most people curious to learn more by providing a manageable stepping stone. Learning more about different cultures, I believe, would increase one’s openness to new ideas. Increased open-mindedness and understanding might, in turn, have the positive effect of decreasing hostilities between different nationalities.

To some extent, all of these hoped-for hypothetical benefits represent something of a logical stretch. International strife wouldn’t disappear overnight because of speaking other countries’ names in their languages. Nonetheless, it would be enjoyable to have a culturally integrated acquaintance with more foreign languages by adopting this new practice.

Thumbnail Photo by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash

  • Do you think people worldwide should make a concerted effort to refer to other countries in their language?

    • Yes. That would be so cool. Why don’t we do this already?
    • Maybe…but I’m afraid I’d butcher the pronunciation.

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