Learning about yourself through language

All good things must come to an end – this is our last Clew edition. We will end the Clew story with some encouragement along your expat way. Sorana encourages you to learn about yourself through learning and speaking different languages:

If you are an expat, chances are you might also be bilingual or trilingual or multilingual. In today’s world few of us stick throughout our lives with only our native language. Either we learn another language by chance, by necessity or simply because we are prone to discover new languages.

We also learn a tiny bit about ourselves by experiencing and trying (more or less successfully) to express our thoughts   in a new(ish) territory. Numerous studies, articles and books are stating the advantages of mastering more than one language. I think I might have read somewhere that bilinguals will soon outnumber the monolinguals. Second and third languages besides the native one are being taught in schools across the world nowadays.

The benefits are so obvious I find no reason for me to discuss here what we all already know. However, there seems to be less data out there regarding a closely related matter. Few of us are mastering symmetrically more than let’s say two languages. “Despite the fact that many bilinguals report being different in each of their languages, only few researchers have attempted to get to the bottom of this question.” ( Change of Language, Change of Personality , Francois Grosjean, Ph.D.-Psychology Today)

If you think about it, in a situation when you are forced to switch to a language that is not your forte, and in spite of the fact that you actually can hold a conversation quite well, the words that would pour with indubitable logic and rapidity in your primary language, are sometimes simply not there to be  used with the same accuracy or argumentative force . The American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf developed the idea that “each language encodes a worldview that significantly influences its speakers”.  A multilingual brain would confer different tiny  personalities depending on the level of mastering a particular language and the given situation or  context .

© Ffatserifade | Dreamstime.com

© Ffatserifade | Dreamstime.com

We can be all of a sudden timid and hesitant when having to speak a language in which we don’t feel quite at home  with.  Well, theoretically practice makes perfect so you being shy in whatever language you’re going for has no logical explanation and still it is there. The bold and the brave and the logical you  is ”currently unavailable” in an ad-hoc conversation in the unfamiliar territory but you’re still you regardless.  No matter the language, we each feel the need to justify and bring new input into a conversation. So on a funnier note, next time you find yourself having a petty quarrel in a language  you’re trying to master, you might want to take a second and acknowledge the fact( and take it as a good sign) that it is quite possible you  actually became fluent(ish).

Expats usually use their languages for different purposes and in different domains, thus we may have an additional explanation as to why we might behave differently.

Learning a new language even later in life has many upsides, including exposure to new literature or glimpses into a new culture. More or less consciously we are in fact learning something new every day, words in different languages included. So if we think that with a new language, new knowledge  comes along, I guess we can believe  to some extent that happiness can be (as well) learning a new language.

Regardless which language, old or new, fluent or not so fluent, I believe you do remain true to yourself.  Chances are you can establish a connection with few words or, on the contrary, you can communicate fluently in a lingua franca without ever reaching a common ground. Sometimes you just need that chance to tell your words (many or not so many) to the right interlocutor.

Today’s nearly over. Tomorrow I might feel at home in another language, but for a while it sure felt like it writing this…in English.

P.S. For some reason, Colin Firth’s character from Love actually  came to my mind, and his noble  motivation for learning a new language just so he could propose to his fiancée in her native tongue. So when the right motivation (whichever it may be) is there, along comes the courage to speak up with a foreign accent.

Have a nice day!

Passez une bonne  journée!

Buona giornata! (Italian)

Que tenga un buen dia! (Spanish)

Einen schönen Tag noch ! (German)

Schéinen Dag nach! (Luxembourgish)

Ha en god dag! (Norwegian)

Să aveţi o zi bună! (Romanian)


By Sorana Popescu, February 2016

http://www.clewmag.net will stay open for old and new readers – many clever words to read and re-read.

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