3 ways learning a language changes the way you think


If you think about it, languages are not just a tool that we use to communicate things, they are intertwined with the culture, traditions and beliefs of its people.

Most of our students who learn a second language for the first time, are always surprised by the fact that articles, nouns and adjectives have gender. For me, as a native Spanish Speaker, an email is clearly masculine, but for those of my students who are English native speakers… An email is just an email! There is something very funny as well, when I moved to Italy, I found out that email is actually feminine in Italian. Some studies have shown that the way we describe objects can change depending on the gender we attribute to them. Bridge in Spanish is a masculine word and a native speaker would describe it as strong, hard, heavy. However, in German, bridge is feminine and people would use words such as pretty, elegant and even delicate.

Think about all the words that sometimes don’t have a translation to other languages. In my country (Uruguay) we have one word for snow: ‘nieve’, but if you go north you would be surprised by how many words other languages have when talking about snow. This is a clear example of how our very own geography conditions our language. 

There are many other interesting examples. English speakers organize time from left to right while Arabic speakers do it from right to left. Ninety-two in Spanish is ‘noventa y dos’ (ninety and two), in German is ‘zweiundneunzig’ (two and ninety) and in French… ‘quatre-vingt douze’ (four twenties and twelve). Crazy, isn’t it? Languages don’t limit our ability to perceive the world, but they might influence the way we focus our attention to specific aspects of the world.

Do you have a different personality in another language? 

Absolutely yes! I have noticed that when I speak Italian I am really loud. When I speak Portuguese, I sound very, very happy, but when I speak German, I’m shy and hesitant. The way the bilingual and multilingual brain works is still a mystery in so many aspects and researchers have been studying this phenomenon for a while now. Apparently, the situations that led us to learn that language in the first place, could be decisive. For instance, Russian speakers reported that they feel strong and confident when they speak Russian and free when they Speak English.

When do you start dreaming in another language?

This is something that can change from one person to another, but fun fact: you don’t need to be fluent to start dreaming in another language. This is just a ‘sign’ from your brain telling you, ‘you are making it, I’m getting used to this language that you are studying!’.

How words shape our personality and relationships?

Like I said before, the language that we speak shapes many things, the way we see the world, of course, but also the relationships we have with other people. When I teach the imperative mood, my English students are terrified of using it and sound rude and impolite. For Spanish speakers, saying something like ‘bring me the book’, it’s not rude. In some countries, using the informal you (tú) to address someone you haven’t met before can be very disrespectful. However, in my country (Uruguay), using the form ‘usted’ is extremely weird and some people can even take it as an offense.

As you see, learning a language is a great adventure! Are you ready to start yours?

Blog written by: Victoria P. (Spanish teacher at Eurocentres)

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