“Learn a new language and get a new soul”
Inspiring quote, isn’t it? This Czech proverb is actually something to reflect on as a bilingual (or multilingual). I’ve recently read this interesting article which made me wonder whether I’m a different person every time I switch to another language.
I feel lucky to have grown in a multilingual environment. I’m Romanian-born but my parents thought it was important for me to also expand to a different culture and therefore, expand my horizons and the way I see the world. As a child, I would sometimes speak English to my dad and he would answer back in Romanian or vice-versa. Another thing I should really be grateful for is … Cartoon Network. Yes, Cartoon Network (don’t laugh). Hearing English on the TV for hours really helped me picking up words, which made me gain confidence. Then, when I was ten, we’ve moved to Belgium. Obviously, you get a lot more multiculturalism in Brussels then in my small Romanian hometown. As a kid (especially at that age), you can’t really have a cultural shock but more of a cultural curiosity. I remember being surrounded by the other kids at school, asking me where I come from and I would ask them the same thing. In a day, I would get more or less 10 different answers… something that fascinated me. For the first time in my life, I felt… different. In a good way. All the kids were different but they still had a place at that school. I realised that being different wasn’t a bad thing.
In a few years time, I started to learn other languages and made a passion out of it. Discovering and learning about other cultures is probably one of the best way to enrich yourself. Rudolf Steiner was right: “to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world”. Now, I don’t know if I’m really that different when I switch from English to Spanish or from French to Italian… The interviewees in the article comment that it’s a question of context, which I agree with. However, I also think that I’m sometimes more relaxed when speaking French or English and more “anxious” when it comes to Italian or Spanish. It must be a question of habit and practice. I have less opportunities to speak Spanish and Italian, which makes me think I’ve forgotten everything. Also, it’s very funny to notice that writing a formal letter in French asks for a lot more sentences than in English. Anyone else who has the same feeling?
One thing that I’ve learned for sure: learning a new language doesn’t make you a psychopath. 🙂 You can still pick new things from different cultures while keeping your own cultural values. After all, this is what makes everyone out there different. Diversity… isn’t it an awesome thing?