We live in a time where speaking 3 or 4 languages is not extraordinary anymore; it is so much more common to be multilingual these days. Multilingual people use several languages in everyday life. Some people call them gifted and intelligent, others doubt they can fully master any one of those languages.
Be it your mother tongue or a language you acquired later in life, I certainly agree that you have to keep in touch with each language. You will lose its fine-tuning if you stop using it. Besides interest in grammar and attention to detail, it helps being aware of what each language means to you and what is your emotional perception towards it.
Those of you who are multilingual know that you click more with some languages than others and have a different relationship with every single one. This not only depends on the level at which you speak it but also about personal preference and how you relate to it. With each language come traits of its mentality, which can emphasizes certain characteristics of you. Here is an interesting awareness exercise:
If you were to relate a body part for each language – which ones would you choose?
I will give you mine as an example. My mother tongue is German. I never really particularly liked it as a language, I guess, I grew up with it and didn’t really have a choice until I first left Germany to live abroad at the age of 20. German is very logical and reasonable. Its use doesn’t allow much for grey areas; it is very black and white. Of course it is still the most intuitive to me and it’s the only language I am 100% sure of when it comes to orthography and grammar (even though new German grammar rules make it difficult!). We have a German saying “aus dem Bauch heraus”, literally translated “out of the belly”, which describes something like a gut feeling or being intuitive. Therefore I would allocate German to my belly.
English would be in my head, because it is the language I probably have used more frequently during the last 10 years. To me the English language isn’t that pretty in the way it sounds – more it´s beautiful in its use. You can be so specific! Where there is only one word in German or French, there will be 5 synonyms in English; each with a slight differentiation in meaning. Awesome! You can play with words so much more than in German; to me it is also a very happy and cheerful language that can even make difficult contexts sound amazingly friendly and positive. Being such a precise language, it can carry so many more layers of understanding “between the lines” than other languages I know. I appreciate its politeness and respectfulness a lot.
However the language I truly love most is French. I don’t know why, it just has always been that way. I enjoyed learning it at school and I spent my first expat year and parts of my student life in France, with lots of fond memories. To me French is a very poetic language using a lot more metaphors than others, and if spoken slowly (the traditional way, not Argo nor Verlan) I adore the sounds and melody. Even though I am a bit rusty now and not as fluent as I used to be, it would definitely relate it to my heart. It certainly is a language with a lot of identity and self-confidence.
Since the most significant parts of the body are taken now, and I am still juggling my Spanish at B2 level, I would place it into my hands like a tool to survive in Spain. I have not much of an emotional connection to it at all (which actually makes it harder to learn) and its “machine gun”-like sounds strike me as rather harsh and somewhat unfriendly. I am now only starting to grasp its hidden softness. To me it could be a language you can speak with minimum physical effort… without having to open your mouth properly 😉 I have seen a similar approach in the Outback of Australia where flies and heat stop you opening your mouth too much when speaking… just kidding.
And then there are my Anglo-Saxon roots and the local Saxon dialect of German. Funnily enough, I never spoke much of it when I was young and have lost it over the years. I can probably still understand it but I’m definitely unable to speak it. However I can see a link between Saxon dialect and Old English. It can be as playful and cheerful as English but it can also sound very rustic, countryside style. I guess it would therefore be a wisdom tooth that I got taken out on purpose. 😉
How do you relate to languages? Continue reading my blog on 8 tips and tricks how to learn a new language