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The most important language you will EVER learn | Poet Ali | TEDxOrangeCoast

The most important language you will EVER learn | Poet Ali | TEDxOrangeCoast


Translator: Alina Siluyanova
Reviewer: Denise RQ How many languages do you speak? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’d like everyone to take a moment
and get a number in your head. How many languages do you speak? Some of you are like, “That’s easy.
I’m done. It’s one, you’re talking it.” Others of you need a little more time,
you’re counting your languages, maybe deciding whether that language
your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend taught you where you learned only curse words,
whether it counts or not. Go ahead and count it. (Laughter) Be nice to yourself. When I asked myself this question,
I came up with four, arguably five if I’ve been drinking. (Laughter) But then on closer… (Laughter) …on closer examination, I realized
that that number was closer to 83; 83 languages, at which point
I just got tired and I stopped counting. And it forced me to revisit
that definition we have of “language.” We can scroll through this,
but the first part says, “The method of human communication,
either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words
in a structured and conventional way.” At the bottom we see, “the phraseology
and vocabulary of a certain profession.” We know that specialized field,
like medicine, science. But I’m most concerned
with this secondary definition, number 2, “The system of communication used
by a particular community or country.” And I’m not interested
in altering this definition. I’m interested in applying it
to everything we do, because I believe we speak
far more languages than we realize. And for the rest of our time,
I’m going to speak in one language that is native to everyone here. So if you came to see a TED Talk,
I’m sorry to disappoint you, TED is not here, it’s me,
and you’re stuck with me. And if you came to hear a talk,
I’m sorry to disappoint you there too, because we’re going
to have a conversation. And as in any conversation, it’s not a real conversation
unless there is an interaction. At various points,
I’m going to ask you to interact. You can ask any woman on
whether or not it’s a real conversation: if you’re not interacting,
it doesn’t count. And I agree with that definition. (Laughter) So before we can get started,
I need to do a test to make sure we’re clear on what this participation,
this conversation looks like. If you’re happy and you know it,
clap your hands. (Applause) Very good. We can proceed. (Laughter) (Spanish) If you speak
Spanish, please, stand up. OK. We’re going to make a joke,
an experiment, OK? Please, look at the person on your right,
at somebody who is sitting, and start laughing. (Laughter) Thank you so much. (English) Go ahead and take a seat. If you felt a little bit uncomfortable, I can assure you there was no joke
being made at your expense. I simply asked the Spanish-speaking
population to stand up, look at the person to their right
that was sitting, and to laugh. And I know that wasn’t nice, I’m sorry. (Laughter) But in that one moment, you got to experience a part
of language we’re often unaware of. We know when somebody speaks our language,
it automatically connects us, it binds us. But we often forget
that if you don’t speak that language, what it does to isolate,
and what it does to exclude? It’s a very important thing to remember
as we go on in this journey of languages. (Farsi) For everybody
who speaks Persian: I’d like to explain
the meaning of “t’aarof.” As you can see, the translation
of this word is complicated. (English) If you heard some chuckles, that was the Farsi-speaking population
laughing a little bit inside because I’m going to attempt to explain
the word “t’aarof” in our culture, which has no equivalent
in the English language. The best way we can describe it
is a combination of words, things like an extreme humility,
or an extreme grace, extreme politeness. And really, the only way I can get you
to understand how deep this goes is to give you an example. If two guys were
to see each other in the street, it’ll be very common for one
to walk up to the other one and say, (Speaks in Farsi) (English) That means,
“I am indebted to you.” To which the second guy would respond back (Speaks in Farsi) (English) which means,
“I tear my shirt open for you.” (Laughter) To which the first guy would respond back (Speaks in Farsi) (English) which means,
“I am your servant.” (Laughter) The second guy would then
respond back if it went that far (Speaks in Farsi) (English) which literally means,
“I am the dirt beneath your feet.” (Laughter) Exhibit A. (Laughter) This extreme humility has no parallel
in the English lexicon. And I share this example with you
just for you to know that merely speaking another language
can introduce a new concept into our lives that previously didn’t exist. And that’s one example from one language. If I would have flashed
this series of coded words on the screen, some of you right away can recognize
and know exactly what it is, others of you would have no clue. And I can probably make a pretty clear cut
right around the age of 35 and younger and 35 and older,
unless you really hit 35. But some of you who are maybe
in that bracket that understand this, you know exactly what this is. And others might be staring at the screen,
like, “Wth?” – “What the heck?” And, of course, for those of us that know,
this is textspeak or SMS language; it’s a series of mobile phone
text encoded words that seek to use
the least number of letters to convey the most amount of meaning, which sounds very similar
to our definition of language. And to show that applies even further, what if I were to tell you this is,
in fact, a modern day love letter? Follow with me
as I go through these letters. “For the time being, I love you lots because you positively bring out
all the best in me, and I laugh out loud. In other words, let me know what’s up. (Laughter) You’re a cutie, in my opinion. (Laughter) And as far as I know, to see you,
if you’re not seeing someone, would make me happy. For your information,
I’ll be right there forever. In any case, keep in touch.
No response necessary. All my best wishes. Don’t know, don’t care
if anyone sees this, so don’t go there. See you later, bye for now.
Hugs and kisses. You only live once. (Laughter) (Applause) If you’ve just laughed right now,
you just spoke another universal language, and that’s laughter. (Laughter) It’s an amazing thing. We don’t need to translate it,
and we’re born speaking it. That’s why things like music and comedy [Stop, stop! I’m gonna pee] are so prevalent in every single culture. (Laughter) You see, everything we do
is a portal to another language, and the more languages we speak,
the more we can learn. It’s a very common thing we all do: we take any new concept, and we compare it
to the existing axis of reality within us, by which we learn that new concept. So the more languages
that we have at our disposal, the easier it becomes
to learn these other languages. And despite all these languages
that we’ve covered so far, I still believe we haven’t covered
what I believe to be the most profound and important language of all,
which is the language of experience. This is why you can get back from a trip,
or you can have an amazing experience and you come and see someone you know,
your best friend, and you sit down, and you go into detail
about all these things, this experience and they just give you this blank look,
“I guess you had to be there.” (Laughter) And that’s why you can go
up to a stranger, and before you’re even two words in,
they start finishing your sentences if they’ve had this experience,
if they speak that language. Because that language, that experience
is the most binding one we have. You don’t need to tell them
what languages you’re speaking, they know. Just like I am not going to tell you
what language I’m going to be speaking. I’m going to ask for the short amount
of time we have left that if I’m speaking your language
– I am going to speak a few languages – if I’m speaking your language,
your experience, I’m going to ask, for the sake
and the spirit of what we’re doing, that you just merely stand
and you stay standing. Do you speak this language? I don’t know about you, but I remember in school, at the end of the year,
we’d have these graduation parties. And the whole student body
would vote on where to have the party. For me, I would hope that the party
wasn’t at the water park, because then I’d have to be
in a bathing suit, and I didn’t think anybody
wanted to see me in a bathing suit. Or maybe this: I don’t know
if you’ve ever been in a dressing room, and you wanted to punch a hole
through the door of that dressing room, because the way things would fit on you
didn’t look the way as on that mannequin. Or I remember our family gatherings,
going to get seconds, or wanting to, and that was a whole exercise
in cost-benefit analysis for me, because I knew I was hungry, but in family
everyone is in your business, so I knew that walk of and these looks of,
“I don’t know, do you really need that?” And did my cheeks
because they were rounded, big, have a “Pinch Me” sign on them
that no one told me about? And for those of you who stand,
or begin to stand or are standing, you know, of course, I am speaking
the language of growing up as a fat kid. Any body image issue
is a dialect of that language. I’m going to ask you
that you stay standing and see about another language. Do you speak this language? When we heard the diagnosis, I thought, “Anything but that.
Please not that. I hate that word.” And then you ask
a series of questions, “Are you sure? Is it removable? Has it spread? How long, doctor, how long?” And the pattern of those answers
determines someone’s life. And I remember when he had an appetite,
we would all rush to the table to eat, because, as you know,
this thing takes away your appetite, and that wasn’t very often
that you felt hungry, so we’d all rush because we always
ate together, that’s what we did. And I was taught
that if you fight something, you’re supposed to win
if you have the right spirit. And we had the right spirit,
and I didn’t understand why we’re losing. If you’re standing, you know
the language I’m speaking is watching a loved one battle cancer. And any terminal illness is a derivative
or a dialect of that language. I am going to ask you to stay standing. Do you speak this language? When the buildings fell, I wasn’t in shock
because I didn’t really believe it. I heard the news, but all the words,
they were like white noise. I couldn’t make sense of it.
And it was more of disbelief or denial. And then I remember seeing the first plane and the absolutely incomprehensible visual
of what I was seeing. And then I saw the second one,
and all I could do was shake my head no, like it wasn’t really happening. And then I saw the ground, and I saw a city with more guts, courage
than any city I’ve ever known in the world and they were in total fear
and in total panic. And then a little bit of time after,
I heard the stories: the stories of bravery,
the stories of courage, the final minutes, the phone calls. And every year right around that time,
I have this eerie sense of sadness and this appreciation for those I love. And for those of you standing,
of course you know I’m speaking the language of September 11, 2001. Some of you stood within four words
“When the buildings fell” – that’s all I said. And the interesting thing
about that language is that’s America’s language. And many cultures and communities
have their own language, and it’s not what they’re speaking. We all speak that language,
because it’s a part of America’s language. And if you’re still not standing, you probably know
what it’s like to be left out. (Laughter) You know what it’s like
that everyone is a part of something, and you’re not. You know what it’s like
to be the outsider. In fact, you know what it’s like
being the minority. Now that we’re all speaking
the same language, I’m going to ask you go ahead and stand, because I believe this language,
of being the minority, is one of the most important languages
you can ever learn. At some point in our life, we’ll all be
in that position of compromise, and at some point, we’ll all be
in that position of power. And if you can tap into what you felt when you were that minority,
how you handled that power, it will be an immense gift
that you can give to the world. Thank you for participating.
Please, sit for a moment. I want to speak one last language.
You don’t need to stand. I just want to see if you recognize it. Most of the girls in the world
are complaining about it. Most of the poems in the world
have been written about it. Most of the music on the radio
is kicking about it, ripping about it, or spitting about it. Most of the verses in the game
people are talking about it. Most of the broken hearts I know
are walking without it, started to doubt it, or lost without it. Most of the shadows in the dark
have forgotten about it. Everybody in the world
will be tripping without it. Every boy and every girl
will be dead without it, struggle without it, nothing without it. Most of the fingers that are drunk
are dialing about it. Most of the people that are in it
are smiling about it. Most of the people that have felt it
are crying about it, or trying to get it back,
or lying about it. Most of the pages that are filled
are filled about it. The tears that are spilled
are spilled about it. The people that have felt it
are real about it. A life without it.
You’d be lost without it. When I am in it, and I feel it,
I’d be shouting about it. Everybody in the whole world
knowing about it. I’m hurt and broke down,
I’d be flowing about it, going about it wrong,
because I didn’t allow it. You see, cannot a wound
or a scar heal without it, can’t the way that you feel
be concealed about it. Everybody has their own ideal about it,
dream about it, appeal about it. What’s the deal about it? Are you bound about it to know
that life is a trip and unreal without it? Everything that you feel
is surreal about it. But I’m just a writer,
so what can I reveal about it? Why is it that the most spoken about
language in the world is the one we have
the toughest time speaking? No matter how many books, how many movies,
how many seminars we go to, we still can’t get enough of it. So I ask you, has that number that you had
in your head at the beginning, has that changed? And I also ask you, next time
you see someone to ask yourself, “What languages do we share?” And if don’t see any,
the second question is, “What language could we share?
Let’s find out.” And if you still don’t see any,
this is the most important question, “What languages can I learn?” And no matter how irrelevant
or inconsequential learning that language
may seem at that time, I promise you it will work to your benefit
at some time in the future. My name is Poet Ali, and I believe
that’s an idea worth spreading. (Applause)

Comments (43)

  1. Maravillosa conferencia y excelente consejo final 🙂

  2. Best thing I saw and heard today …The Language ….Thank You TEDx Talks for getting this magical being ~Poet Ali and all other experts on the platform. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  3. I legit came here to learn about language-learning tips. Instead I got this

  4. This is my favourite TED talk, my favourite performance, the content is on point 🙌🏽 and I completely agree. I have a whole channel about what he is talking about, this is one of my passions 💞

  5. i speak 5 hhhh

  6. me and my friends created a secret language to use to talk across class ( as in hand movements ) i wonder if that's considered lol

  7. plot twist: the answer is actually esperanto

  8. Some people can never learn another language. It comes from your genes.

  9. Awesome.  Thank you.

  10. “Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis
    As a Spanish teacher with German and English proficiency, I totally agree with this.

  11. I do agree with what he said about the language of experince, ppl who share same experiences understand and feel each other, we usually make friends based on that.. Bcoz we can relate to them, its like magic when the other person not only understands but also feels u, but according to a scientist if we had a powerful enuf language we can describe how colours feel to a blind person who has never seen a single colour in his entier life (without the need for them to experince it)

    My point is i wasnt in 9/11 towers when the incident happened but i can still feel what they felt through words (maybe its not 100% precisely the same but then again even the ppl there didnt have the same feeling probably bcoz everyone is different?)

    This whole thing kinda reminds me when morpheous tells new "i know EXACTLY what u mean" in the matrixmovie

  12. i liked this ted talk but those still aren't languages….

  13. He looks, sounds and speaks kinda like markus from
    detroit become human

  14. This speech is in my top of the best speeches ever!

  15. "Everybody talkin' 'bout that same ol' thang … "

  16. God damn! He made me cry… This is just beautiful.

  17. The best of the best TED talk i’ve ever seen and listened. Salute to you Poet Ali.

  18. Coding and Calculus included?

  19. This I believe is one of the best Ted talk out there! Share it.

  20. If you learn English, 中文(Chinese) and Spanish you will be pretty successful in society

  21. About 90%of Kurdish people say we know three languages,Kurdish, Arabic and English but if u ask them: could speak Arabic or English ?
    then they say ummmmmmm

  22. I speak 3 languages: French, Arabic and English and I’m Lebanese

  23. I speak a foreign language…its logic.

  24. Sarcastic!!! (Best language)

  25. What a beast this guy is ! Respect

  26. Liked the video but this dude straight sounds like a pastor.. Was waiting for an alter call

  27. Fantastic talk! I only wish he included sign language. The definition of language leave sign out as if it doesnt count because it's not apparently spoken. For a talk about a man breaking down language barriers it would have been profound to include sign also

  28. 13:31 Top 10 Rappers eminem was afraid to diss

  29. best TedTalk I have seen

  30. how did that go … ? I am the dirt beneath your feet.

  31. Ohh the last part with it could be a rap song..

  32. Absolutely Amazing!

  33. 7:29 what you came for.

  34. What you said at 12:48 is very impressive. Thanks, Poet Ali, for saying those words in probably the most wonderful way possible.

    I believe, this language, of being the minority,
    is one of the most important languages you can ever learn.

    At some point in our life, we'll all be in that position of compromise,
    and at some point, we'll all be in that position of power.

    And if you can tap into what you felt
    when you were that minority,
    how you handled that power,
    it will be an immense gift that you can give to the world.

  35. damn… That was deep

  36. In linguistics, we only consider the spoken Language. Writing systems are just auxiliary means by which to anaylze it.

  37. damn, so on point! <3

  38. I feel that Farsi humility, I dated a Farsi-speaking man many many years ago.

  39. I knew from the beginning that your speech would lead to the language of love. Thanks alot from my viewpoint as a writer. One of the best speeches, perhaps even the best speech ever.

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