It’s a fact: I love learning foreign languages.
Since I was a child, my favourite class at school was English. There wasn’t a day in which I wasn’t highly motivated to learn something new.
Now, as an adult, I keep in touch with different languages along the day, and I love it. However, I don’t want to say I speak a certain number of languages, as some people do, thinking that somehow it will increase their reputation in front of other people. On the contrary, I think this is one of the processes in my life that I enjoy doing, no matter the result, no matter if I make mistakes or if my accent will become an obstacle to the way I communicate. I don’t care, because what I love is when I grab a book, watch a movie or talk to people and I can understand them.
For me, a language is a key to the door to another culture. When you go to a foreign country, even as a tourist, and you don’t know the local language, you feel there’s some kind of locked door there: you cannot tell jokes to people, you cannot negotiate or what is worse, if you’re danger, you cannot survive, no matter if you speak two or twenty languages.
Nevertheless, what is crucial for me is the way it transforms me as a person. When you’re learning a new language, you’re not just learning a few words, some grammar rules and some strange exercises to improve your pronunciation. It gives you something more, much more: you connect to a new culture, new values, different ways of thinking that, if you open your mind, it literally changes you.
One of the most impactful moments in my life was in 2006 when I went to Sweden as an Exchange Student, to the city of Lund. My goal was to improve my English and I remember how lost I felt, since my English level was really low then. Yes, when I was a kid I was highly motivated to learn it, but in Spain the applied methodology wasn’t good enough.
One day, me and some friends decided to go to a house out there in the mountains. I don’t remember where but I remember what happened.
My confidence with English was very low then despite my motivation. I always had high marks in English and I felt frustrated that after learning English for many years at school (since I was 8 till I was 18), my level was not higher than A2. Something was wrong. But I was not the only one, my other Spanish friends were somehow suffering from the same, except those who could afford a really good English school.
Anyway, my stubborn nature told me I had to keep struggling to improve and so I did, I kept talking and talking to people from other countries until I met that person.
I remember her face, not her name, because her words were harmful enough to make me think. She was a Swedish girl who lived in Canada for some time and when I talked to her she arrogantly said: “You should stop learning English… You’re bad at it. Admit it. You’ll never make it.”
I felt devastated because of those words and I wanted to give up. I spent the rest of the weekend angry, upset, hurt, because despite of all the efforts in my life, I had the feeling that I’ve been lied to, that I wasn’t good at English as I thought.
When I got over it, my stubborn nature got back again on its feet and I started practicing harder, being more strict to the way I was learning: I read books, I checked grammar rules and started learning the pronunciation of some words. Also I practiced and practiced with people, no matter what.
Months later I was in a party and somebody told me: “Jorge, your progress in English is impressive!” I felt a won a battle. But what not many people knew was that I was learning Swedish at the same time, contrary to common advice that says that learning two languages at the same time is counterproductive. But after my experience with that person, I decided not to listen to people’s comment, since they mislead you. What is important is how you feel with yourself.
With this story, two things happened:
1. I changed the way I looked at myself. People were praising my progress and it felt good, but I proved myself that I could learn a foreign languages with time and effort.
2. When learning both English and Swedish, my relationships with people changed for the better. I learned new things and I found out that I even changed the way I thought. I became wiser.
When I got back to Barcelona in June 2007, I decided to start a journey of learning foreign languages as a way to grow up as a person, at the same time I was enjoying this new passion.
In all my life I could learn 7 languages, in some I can maintain a conversation, in others I can survive good enough. Now I’m going to describe each one of them in the order I learned them and how they changed my life in some way or another.
1. Spanish. The Key to Life: as my mother tongue, with this language I started my connection to my life and learn new things as a child. I’m happy I can speak this language, since it allows me to connect to many countries and enjoy the richnesses of the Spanish culture, and the marvellous landscapes of Latin America and its music. I also write my books in Spanish and try to improve even my own mother tongue.
My favourite expression in Spanish is: “Dime con quién vas y te diré quién eres.” (Tell me with whom you hang out and I’ll tell you who you are.” My mother uses a lot this expression. It means that the people you hang out with shapes quite often your personality.
2. Catalan. The Key to Innocence: As my second language, I grew up as a child watching cartoon on TV in Catalan. Also, part of my education has been in Catalan. I feel very connected to the this culture and values and our History, even though my roots are not Catalan. They way this language sounds reminds me of an innocent child, its musicality and words sound soft and calm.
My favourite expression in Catalan is: “De mica en mica s’omple la pica”. (˜Step by step the basin is filled). It means that with small steps and patience we can achieve our goals.
3. English. The Key to the World: English is my third language but my favourite one. I especially love the North American accent. When I need to gather my thoughts or write short texts to connect with myself I do it in English, since for some strange reasons, it helps me meditate. I also love this language because it opens me a door to any country, since it’s for the language of the world now. What I find more interesting is the access I have to any kind of book written in the USA or English about human behaviour, since I can find many alternatives. I also study other courses in English.
I have as a personal rule that any word I learn in a foreign language, I have to know it also in English.
My favourite expression in English is: “Everything at the right time.”
4. Swedish. They Key to Openness: once I had a conversation with a Swedish guy and we both agreed that Swedish looked hard at the outside but soft in the inside. I remember my time in Sweden where I could have open conversations about almost any topic with Swedish people with little judgment. Maybe I was lucky then, but thanks to this experience, this language helped me express me openly about my feelings when the time was right with no fear.
My favourite expression in Swedish is: “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder”. This expression means that there is no bad weather, but inadequate clothes. Apart from the weather, this expression has a big meaning for me. There are no hard times, only wrong attitude.
I promised myself to get back to Swedish when I improve in other areas, since I forgot a lot.
5. German. They Key to Strictness: I started learning German, honestly, because it was similar to Swedish and in 2008 I thought that if I could speak German I could more easily learn Swedish when I got back to it. It’s true, and when the right time comes I’ll get back to Swedish for fun.
Germany is well known for many things. Of them is their work culture: mistakes are not well considered, everything has to follow strict processes and on time. The language, if not spoken correctly, it can be considered authoritative.
This language taught me how to be strict when pursuing my goals and define roadmaps and strategies. When something gets into my mind, I often say: “I enter German mode” and I define and redefine the best plan until I get what I want and satisfy my stubborn nature.
My favourite expression in German is: “Übung macht den Meister”. It means that only through practice we can become experts in one field.
6. French. The Key to Charm: French language is well known because it sounds charming to many people. Also to me. French is one of those languages I always wanted to learn because the way it sounds: charming and elegant.
One of the things that this language teaches me is how to express my opinion in a polite manner, respecting the other person as well as my rights, even if I have to use many words to say it.
My favourite expression in French is: “Chercher midi a quatorze heures.” It means to complicate things uselessly. Since I learned it, I try to apply it quite often, since I’m a person who tends to make things more complicated than they should.
7. Polish. The Key to Reconstruction: Poland is a country that has lived many conflicts with its neighbours. In 2018 they celebrated their 100 year anniversary after the Poles got their Independence. Also, it’s a country that was damaged severely during the II World War. However, after they abandoned the Communism and entered the European Union, the country has been growing economically very fast and attracting foreign investments.
I came to Poland to learn from the Poles and their History. Moreover, the Polish languages is one of the most challenging languages because of the complexity of the grammar rules. Recently, I’m learning Polish as a way to prove myself that I can overcome any obstacle I encounter in life.
For now I don’t have a favourite expression in Polish, but I have a favourite word: “Masakra.” In Poland, they usually say it when something went wrong and they put a lot of emphasis on it.
And you, how did languages change your life? What did you learn from them?
I hope you liked this article.