If you had been at the international languages convention Expolingua Berlin this year, you would have seen a repeated image on the walls and on the programmes: human lips painted in the bright colours of international flags.
When I first saw them, I made the connection between mouths and talking, and therefore language. But the more I thought about it, the more this image meant to me. The mouth can do more than just talk — it can kiss, something that has been described as “the only universal language”.
And it can smile, something that mine did continuously throughout the two-day event. It smiled at the Guatemalan lady at the opposite stall, it smiled at the group of young Koreans at one of the biggest stalls in the hall, it smiled at passersby, it smiled at my coworkers, and it smiled to itself.
I represented Spark Languages at Expolingua this year, and I found it an incredible experience, meeting people from all over the world and discussing our mutual languages with each other. What I found particularly inspiring was the tremendous diversity. There were students, teachers and exhibitors from what seemed like every nation on earth. By simply wandering around and striking up conversations, one could experience just about every language and culture in the world.
This is why I find it hard to be patriotic, particularly when patriotism seems to involve phrases like “take back control” and “independent”. For me, “I love my country” is just a hairsbreadth from “My country is the best”, which is the same as “Other countries are inferior”. Perhaps I’m being unfair here. But while it’s important to celebrate the customs, culture and cuisine that makes a country unique, it’s equally important not to forget that your country is one of 195 others on this planet, every single one of which has something unique to offer to the traveller or the student.
Flag bunting was hung around the main hall of Expolingua, up and down the stairways and hanging from the balconies. I spotted dozens of flags that I knew — Spain, Greece, Russia, Japan — and dozens more that I recognised but didn’t know the names of. And there was the Union Jack, hung proudly alongside all the others. It was no bigger than the other flags — but it was no smaller either.