Language's the Great Communicator

Feb 19 , 2022
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

A conversation between two women of different lingo-cultural groups, ages and religions surprised me. At first, I thought they were talking in Amharic but as they kept conversing, I realized it was another language spoken as a first language by one of them. They seemed to enjoy the banter. I could pick up some of the words they were saying as they were mixing Amharic words in the middle. To my surprise, one of them started swearing in the other’s religion because the other one kept asking her to say it to make sure what she was saying was true.

They are both from different religious groups and backgrounds, yet that did not stop them from being friends and enjoying each other’s company. It should be a regular thing in modern times but it has not been the case for a while. Among other possible factors, what brought them together was having a common communication tool which happens to be language. It restored my hope in society. Perhaps this was the solution to social fracture staring us in the face for such a long time – learning other languages aside from our mother tongue. It could help better integrate cultures and customs.

There will always be conflict between peoples, over resource or convictions, even between groups with the same values and a common history. We can go far in addressing friction by communicating better through the resource of language.

Imagine two people from different lingo-cultural groups arguing over politics and one of them starts responding in the language of the other. This shows respect and consideration for the cultures and customs of the other. It could make a significant difference and be the key to attaining national understanding powered by dialogue.

If there were a way to include other national languages in the educational system, and if students were assigned to spend summer in a region outside where they were born, they would get to experience the culture and be able to communicate in the same tongue. It could start at high school, with elective classes in local languages. It should be a free course but not graded. Instead, it could be considered a miscellaneous activity that makes a difference in college admissions.

The impact could be considerable. Language is a powerful tool as most of our problems arise from a lack of clear communication. Imagine if a person from one ethnic group is talking to another person from a different one but using their mother tongue; the person is likely to feel understood, not judged. And they would neither assume the worst of the other ethnic group nor believes that they are out there to get them. It would bring people together and create tolerance.

If anyone has a hard time imagining why language is a powerful tool for identifying with those that have different customs and cultures, just remember how well a non-national that drops Amharic words here and there is received. Suddenly, they have shown they have made an effort to familiarise themselves with the culture. They become a trusted ally, not someone alien. The same could be applicable between different lingo-cultural groups.

It is also never useless to learn more than one language. We expand our horizons that way, learn about the country more and widen our circle of friends. We can visit and live in more places without a language barrier and better facilitate business transactions.

But none of this will happen in a vacuum. There should be an effort towards a national program that introduces students to other cultures and parts o f the country. No matter how costly it would be, it would pay off immensely as it would be beneficial for the country's unity.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 19,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1138]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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