On Love and Language in Luxembourg

Photo of Zara in Luxembourg

One of the many exciting things I’ve experienced through my Fulbright assignment is the opportunity to work at both the University of Luxembourg and the nearby Lycée Hubert Clément. The experience of my shifting position at these two institutions has been educational and dynamic, as my schedule often allows me to visit new classes at the lycée on a weekly basis, coming in and discussing topics relevant to the precise reasons I chose to work in Luxembourg. On one such occasion, I was asked to come into a class and discuss multilingualism from my perspective as a visitor in the country. I figured that the conversation and my own understanding of this topic would be better guided by those whose lives and identities actually hinge upon multilingualism and thus, the lesson quickly turned into an open forum on how language is used by these students in Luxembourg.

I never thought such comfort could be found standing in front of twenty-five unfamiliar high school students, but as the conversation unfolded and students began to share their experiences with language in the various, oftentimes personal, parts of their lives, a sense of care and trust began to develop between me and them: it became more and more clear that there’s something at stake for us all in thinking about the ways in which we can (and sometimes cannot) communicate. One of the most striking moments of the conversation centered upon the complexities of love and language: In what language do you tell someone you love them? How do you maintain healthy communication with friends or romantic partners with whom your first or second language differs? While nearly all students in the class were confident in their levels of speaking fluency in at least three to four languages (Luxembourgish, French, German, and Portuguese — students are often far too humble about their English fluency), many students disagreed on which languages are the best to make jokes in, to argue in, and to build friendships in. “Sometimes it’s all three,” one student said, explaining that few conversations in Luxembourg happen in just one language. She continued, saying, “but that gets difficult when one person doesn’t speak that second or third language…when you just need that one word that explains it all.”

Despite the difficulties that may sometimes come with it, multilingualism in Luxembourg carries a certain significance that cannot be quantified or measured in terms of international assets. Yes, Luxembourgish students may have the capacity to travel to many places and feel linguistically at home (or close to it), but this part of students in Luxembourg is far more than a skill — it is also a critical aspect of their identity. When students in English classes bring up words from other languages to describe something, it is rarely because of their incapacity to explain it in the English language. It is instead a content-ness with the idea that some words and feelings are untranslatable — they cannot be reduced to mere explanatory definition, and their meanings can only be preserved
through the language that it was first said or heard in. Simultaneously welcoming and deeply intimate, language in Luxembourg allows us to rethink good communication no longer in terms of clarity or articulation, but instead as something that needs and thrives upon those unsaid or unexplained (but still somehow understandable) interactions in our everyday lives.

– Zara Anwarzai,
2015-2016 U.S Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Luxembourg

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