Why Language and Culture are Inseparable

Matteo Talotta
4 min readAug 20, 2020

You can’t learn a language without culture.

Marco Perretta on Unsplash

“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” ― Frantz Fanon

Among many reasons as to why people fail in their language learning pursuits is that they attempt to learn a language by using artificial, traditional methods such as memorizing grammar rules or simple translation exercises (calling you out, Duo).

While such methods can “help” to a certain extent, they lack in culture, which is the driving-force of language: language and culture go hand-in-hand. Without culture, learning a language becomes school-like repetition resulting in a boring and ultimately numbing experience.

Languages are living things. They’re constantly evolving. This is due to, in large part, the cultures that utilize these languages: the areas in which these languages flourish.

In fact, a wonderful example of language evolution (and the contrary) is witnessing a particular language spoken in its “native region” and compare it that same language spoken amongst communities that immigrated elsewhere (Italian languages spoken in Italy versus Italian languages spoken in Italian-Canadian/American/Australian communities, as an example).

No fault of the immigrant communities living elsewhere, however, no longer living in an area in which that language is predominant, it often remains stuck in time, and even changes as a result of coming in contact with a new culture and different language. Yet another aspect of cultural beauty in language.

A particular language generally points out to a specific group of people, and when you interact with that language, it means that you are also interacting with the culture that speaks the language. You can read about another culture in your native tongue, but you will understand that culture much greater if you utilize the language of that culture.

It is difficult to truly understand one’s culture without engaging in its language directly.

Language plays an integral part in one’s cultural and group identities. For a few examples, you could look at the political movements advocating for sovereignty in Catalonia, Corsica and Québec: among other reasons, language is at the forefront of such sentiments. It is intrinsic to how the people of said places view themselves and interact with their society.

This is evident in how events are told and history is portrayed by different cultures through their respective languages, giving greater insight into the perspectives of those cultures. As an example of this, take a look at the first line of the Wikipedia pages on Catalonia written in Spanish and in Catalan:

In Spanish, “Cataluña es una comunidad autónoma española, considerada nacionalidad histórica” (“Catalonia is an autonomous Spanish community, considered a historical nationality”).

In Catalan, “Catalunya és un país europeu situat a la Mediterrània occidental, constituït com a comunitat autònoma d’Espanya” (“Catalonia is a European country located in Western Europe, constituted as an autonomous community of Spain”).

Although this is a quite small example, it gives immediate insight into the differing perspectives of, in this case, some (should never generalize) Iberian Spanish and Catalan speakers regarding Catalonia.

NOTAVANDAL on Unsplash

It comes as no surprise that diverse cultures view things differently, however much of these different perspectives are learned when engaging in the culture directly in the respective language.

Learning about particular perspectives that exist within a culture and the proper words or phrases that are used go a long way in the language-learning process as well as enhancing one’s intercultural communication skills.

“When a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it, a way of looking at the world.” ― George Steiner

Without the cultural aspects that drive language, how does one learn a language? It’s not possible. Well, it is possible, but it’ll be an incredibly dreadful and artificial experience, memorizing words and phrases without having a real “why”. Those who truly learn another language do so by (and to) entering into the cultural atmosphere in which that language exists.

Everyone has different economic and personal circumstances that can impede the ability for travel, that’s understandable, but having said that, travel is not always necessary in one’s pursuit in learning a new language and culture.

While it certainly helps immersing yourself in a place in which there cultures flourish, given the wonderful technological advancements we possess at our disposal today, it is easier than ever to immerse yourself in a new language and the accompanying culture from the comfort of your own home.

All of those hours spent watching YouTube or Netflix can be put to good use in terms of watching (in various languages) and learning from the numerous amount of diverse cultural content that exists on such platforms. Social media is universal – it takes less than five seconds to transport yourself and connect with people in another part of the world.

Language and culture are inseparable. You truly learn a language through meaningful engagement with culture. I encourage you to try it, if you haven’t already. It will open up a new world for you.

So what’s stopping you?




Matteo Talotta

🇮🇹🇨🇦 | Est. 2020 | The Only Way Out Is Through