Travel Advent Dec. 23: Do Languages Change Us?

Some of you who’ve kept up with this blog notice that I’ve had one Spanish story a week during the Travel Advent. They have absolutely nothing to do with travel they were homework assignments with my tutor Carlos. You see, I’m one of those folks that wanted to be an overachiever during quarantine and practice their language skills. When the pandemic first started, I started taking Japanese and Korean classes at my local language school. Then a few weeks later, I had to give a presentation to over 100 members of a Mexican blind organization — and that’s when I realized I need to improve my Spanish.

So I scoured the internet for pandemic proof language resources, and lo and behold found an excellent little tutoring service with countless languages called Preply. I found my perfect tutor, and we’ve been meeting once or twice a week since May. I’m an immersion learner, and the only way I’ve been able to keep my Spanish going these past years in Denmark has been from spending lots of time with Argentine around or by taking a trip to Spain now and then. But now that I can’t travel, I had to find a way to travel in my own home.

Carlos has been a godsend. Not only has he made Spanish classes interesting, but he’s pushing me to levels I haven’t experienced in a while. He grades me to groom me for the Spanish comprehension exams, which would be an excellent way to tangibly prove to myself that I benefitted from the lockdown. But learning any language does a lot to transport us from our everyday.

I think languages fundamentally change our brains, and I believe that our personalities are different in other languages. While my Korean and Japanese aren’t too advanced, just the act of learning them and struggling to identify Kanji or sound out Hangeul transports me to a restaurant in Busan or Nagano. If I were to expand these languages, I’m sure my attitude and personality would change. When I was in Japan a few years ago speaking my broken Japanese, I realized how polite and understanding my personality is in Japanese. In English, I like to wander about with big words and meander as if I were hiking through some verdant Welsh hillside.

In Spanish, I like to explore the emotions behind words. It’s such an incredibly emotive language with definitions that don’t fully translate to the moods of English. In that way, for me a lover of melancholy, nostalgia, reflection and magical realism, Spanish is an optimal tool to describe the mind.

In a contrasting way, I’m a lot more matter of fact when I speak Danish. Danish is an upfront language, and in my opinion spoken in a flat impersonal way. There is no word for ‘please’ for example, and the word ‘fine’ means excellent. If someone asks how you are and you say ‘Fine’, it means you’re doing splendidly average — which is a good thing here. In America or the UK and Ireland, ‘fine’ means I don’t want to talk about how I feel. The Danish language can be entirely robotic, until you get to the matters of the indoors. That illusive, unidentifiable and untranslatable ‘hygge’ taking the world by storm is the most human emotion one can find here. It something like the mood and emotions behind coziness, anything from sitting by a fire to having a beer with a friend. This makes sense that Danish would evolve this way, since you spend the whole year inside alone not talking to anyone. You don’t need to say please or express your human emotions, but you do need to invent words to make staying indoors more bearable.

The translated words for every language seem to have their weight to them. It makes sense that my personality would change with each language, because the words I’m using to describe something have an entirely different energy and meaning to them. Just answering the question “How are you” has three different answers. “I’m doing well!” Could mean anything, but English vocabulary was made complicated and given hidden meanings to allow us to answer things indirectly to allow us to keep our masks up. “¿Ando bien, y vos?” has an energy of movement to it. It’s imaginative, it means that “I’m still going” and creates the image of movement and continuation as Spanish is an emotive language of action. “Det går fint, tak” Feels well rounded to me. Danish allows me to be flat and make conclusions. There is no hidden meaning behind my saying “I’m fine,” because I am fine and have nothing else to say about the matter.

So as I look down the barrel of another few months of potential quarantine here in Europe, I’m not too worried. I’ve gotten used to working from home, have enough books to weather an apocalypse, and enough Spanish tutor Duolingo lessons to get through to experience multiple personality disorder before I get my vaccine. What have you been learning this year?

1 thought on “Travel Advent Dec. 23: Do Languages Change Us?”

  1. All of this was way to relatable. I’ve been attempting to learn japanese and spanish the last couple months this year. And it still boggles my mind how polygots and bilinguals can translate from one language to another so quickly.

    Cheers on your learning and happy holidays!

    Like

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