On Learning Languages
Although my passion for languages is how I make a living and what keeps me from living in my parents’ basement, speaking more than one language truly has a much deeper meaning for me. As I reflected on my personal experience, I couldn’t stop thinking of the different ways how learning languages has shaped who I am and what I do.
A common misconception is that bilingual speakers have separate “modules” in their brain for the languages that they speak and each of these entities function independently. However, my personal experience and the most recent academic research conducted in this area seem to be pointing in a different direction. During my childhood, it made perfect sense to me having two different languages at home: Spanish and Catalan. It wasn’t uncommon for my parents or relatives to ask me a question in one language and to respond in a different one. Or to switch languages in the middle of a sentence. I didn’t even question the fact that our dog would bark differently depending on the language that we were speaking. Both linguistic systems coexisted in a continuum as I gradually figured out how and when to use each of them.
I started taking English and French classes in middle school and I quickly realized that this was definitely one of my passions. Having said that, acquiring a second or third language takes time and it is important to be patient as you delve into the nuances of each language. For example, English grammar can be fairly simple to acquire for a Spanish speaker but pronunciation can be a whole different story. As I tried to use the language to communicate while I studied in England and Ireland, I accumulated many great (or not so great) memories of my failed attempts to communicate in English. Many of which are probably too embarrassing to be included in these lines. I fondly remember ordering pizza on the phone when I was a student and getting something completely different every time. Nonetheless, the process of learning a different language is a very rewarding experience when you are eventually able to understand and express ideas on a variety of topics and situations. And on a side note, I actually felt very accomplished when I eventually managed to order a pizza with the right toppings.
Overall, being a language learner has been a very rewarding experience for me, despite some occasional challenges. I definitely encourage everyone to consider studying a different language, regardless of what their college aspirations or career goals may be. It has given me not only access to a whole body of literature and cinema but has also provided a different pair of lenses to examine and make sense of the world; for example, whenever I want to learn more about current events in the US, I usually look into Spanish newspapers, and vice versa. This frequently brings a different perspective that monolingual speakers usually miss out on. At a more personal level, learning languages has led me to study, work and live abroad; something that I have never anticipated or planned. Also, you never stop learning new words or idiomatic expressions as you acquire a second or third language, which makes it a life-long learning endeavor that I truly love.
(Photos courtesy of Moises Gomez-Pastor and the University of Alicante)