How many languages do you speak? I hear this question all the time. So it got me thinking how many languages do I speak? Let me think:
Lithuanian (mother tongue), Russian (learned it with friends playing in the garden), English (went to the UK to learn it), Italian (very basic; I went to learn it to Sicily where most people don’t go), Korean (when I used to work for a Korean company), Spanish (currently learning), Urdu (very beginners).
You could say I speak many languages but I speak really well only two English and Lithuanian. Apart from having a great sense of achievement and being able to communicate, is magical to be able to switch your brain from one to another language.
I remember when I was in Sicily I was out with a serious mix of people. I somehow ended up being a translator; in one night I spoke Russian, Italian and English. Fascinating! What happens to the brain is seriously an interesting experience. I am not a scientist so I wouldn’t be able to explain it in the scientific terms but I can explain how it felt. First, you are amazed that you can switch from Russian to Italian and then speak English. It’s like ‘am I doing it?’, ‘is it actually possible?’ You have to understand my Russian is not great and very rustic and my Italian is seriously beginners level so when I was able to understand and explain things in both languages it amazed me. Your brain gets confused with languages if you don’t speak well. I got seriously drained because you have to be switched on so much that after twenty minutes to half an hour I was ready to hit the bed. It’s fascinating to be able to switch between the languages. What are the benefits of knowing other languages? Apart from being able to communicate almost anywhere in the world? I discovered a few since I am still learning a language at the moment.
It becomes a norm to think differently
Your brain is used to speaking and thinking in one way so when you challenge it by speaking a different language, it gives you a different way of thinking. The same sentence can have a different placement of a verb and object. It means the same thing. The best way I can show it to you is: ‘how are you?’ the verb is in the middle of the sentence. The same sentence in Urdu, for example, ‘ap ka kia hal he?’ the verb is at the end of the sentence. By having different placement of verbs it changes your perspective in how you think. It gives you a two layered view rather than one. You suddenly realise it doesn’t have to be one way. There’s many different ways of doing things out there in the world. I was taught at school there’s only one way and that way is the authority, whatever that may be, is liberating to know it is not true.
It opens you up to a knowledge and awareness of others
Have you ever noticed the intonation changes when you say the same thing in one language and then other? All languages have it but in this instance the Italian language is a perfect example. Just listen to how the English speak and then Italian. The intonation is different in the English language compared to the Italian. What difference does it make? None in the sense of a meaning but culturally a lot. The expression is different and therefore, the behaviour is different. People approach you differently, speak differently, touch differently and so on. The only way to know it, is experience it for yourself. You are not a stranger to people being different so you accept people with their differences. You realise everyone is the same as you. The only difference is the expression but the meaning is the same.
By learning a language you learn culture too
It’s impossible not to learn the culture. By listening and speaking a new language without you noticing you adapt to the culture too. Not at the beginning, of course, but eventually you do. It’s like trying out a new pair of shoes at first it’s a bit tight and then it’s comfortable. Learning a different culture always inspires me. For instance, watching the Italians in a coffee shop; listening to the Spanish speak; seeing a moroccan selling bread; reading a Russian classic and so on. The world suddenly becomes so rich in colour and flavour. It never stops. The ways in which Italian expresses love is very different to the way Germans expresses their love. You realise that the behaviour of people might be different but they mean the same. With culture you learn history too and it’s amazing what you learn! History has a massive influence on culture. However, that’s a different topic for another time.
I highly recommend to learn a new language. It’s hard and frustrating. It’s a very long and slow process, however, it opens your mind to new possibilities. It teaches you flexibility and adaptability to the new culture. It gives you a massive sense of achievement when you can say what you mean in a language you are just learning, like me for example. Yesterday I had a conversation in Spanish with a person who doesn’t speak English. I felt I climbed an Everest! What an achievement! It helps you with the writing as your characters in the book can be from different countries. You can understand and portray it well. It makes you a person of the world who can understand and speak with anyone. It makes you kinder too. Isn’t it powerful?