“re: living with languages”

July 26, 2019

Re: 他言語で生きること


Today I would like to give my own take on a topic I am very passionate about: languages. Eli put out an article about this last month and I would like to give my own personal perspective coming from somewhat of a different experience in language learning.



As I have previously said in one or two of my previous articles, I am a native Italian speaker, currently undertaking a degree in Foreign Languages and Cultures. My chosen languages are Russian and Swedish. Also, I know English at a fluent level. 




Now, my passion for languages is quite recent. I do remember both Italian and English being my favourite subjects throughout my years in school, even if the teaching was heavily grammar-based – but I never really acknowledged the excitement that language learning was providing me with, until I reached a fluent level in English. Then, I became able to understand movies, videos, song lyrics and native speakers talking without the need of a dictionary. At that point, something clicked in me, and I saw the doors of the English speaking world open in front of me. That was extremely exciting, as I was able to access information that wasn’t really available in Italian. 



I then lived in Australia for two years and that was the game changer. I absorbed English every day for two years, with many many days passing by without me having to say even a single word in my native language. This led to English becoming part of my overall thinking process, and even now that I have lived in Italy for the past year, it tends to contaminate my style of expression even when I talk in Italian. 





English became a part of my identity when I reached fluency, because I didn't need English to occupy a different part of my brain, distinct from Italian anymore. But even before I was fluent these different compartments were creating new parts of me that would eventually integrate into me. This compartmentalization for me has been very effective in language learning, and I am also applying it to my learning process for Swedish and Russian. By dividing everything related to each language, as well as the culture of the country where that language is spoken, I am able to create different worlds that I have access to whenever I want. It also helps me be more conscious of my current level of proficiency without comparing all the languages going on in my brain, and pushes me to become better at every single one of them separately. 




Therefore I think it’s very important, in my experience, to separate languages in the beginning stages of your learning process, because otherwise constructs, syntax, vocabulary, etc. will get mixed up and it will take more time for you to learn. Of course, this is easier when the languages you are learning aren’t from the same family. I chose the languages with this purpose, so I wouldn’t contaminate them from the beginning. When one finally reaches fluency, then you can relax and let them blend and sink in your identity. It's also fundamental to add that living in the country of your target language is the fastest way to absorb it and reach a fluency level. As I said above, living in Australia for me was an incredible boost for my English. 




At this point, the world really appears smaller, more accessible, more complete, so to speak. At least that is what happened to me. It also gave me a more complete look at my own self, because it taught me that I can reinvent myself whenever I want.  



In my opinion, each language is a whole different experience, a parallel life you are living, an unexplored territory you are trying to understand and get to know. A language is a whole different way of thinking; to absorb it to the greatest capacity, you have to be extremely open, passionate, judgement-free (at least in the beginning) and interested in the culture of the country that language is spoken in.




Images by Marvi

Edited by Kiara and Eli

Japanese Translated by Hikari


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