I’m fascinated by the way the mind works. One thing that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the past few years has been the way the brain develops a second language, or third, or fourth even. Being able to think, speak, read, and write in another language than your original, at least for me, makes me feel as though I’m transported into another means of existence. I like the way I can physically be in the same world, same place, yet my mind is working in a different location. When I moved to Switzerland in middle school, my international school required that all of the students in 7th grade or older take not only French, the local language, but also Spanish or German. I remember the panic that had risen in my throat at the time– how could they expect me to take both?! I didn’t know much more than a word of either.
I remember feeling trapped, my eyes glazing over as I stared at the French text or made strained efforts to listen to the teacher speaking Spanish before me. I constantly mixed up the words, often using a French conjugation in Spanish class or a Spanish verb during French. My brain was a mixed up mess, the knots of words tangled up in every which way.
For that year I hated going to language classes, my heart racing and my stomach churning each time I was called on to speak in my awful American accent. I remember receiving C’s in both classes, disappointment flooding my veins. With time, things changed. My brain moved a little quicker with each passing week, allowing my confidence to slowly grow. With more exposure, the pieces of the puzzles started to click. I started to take an interest in the way that language was like a game… that conjugating could be fun, as long as I fell into the pattern. My brain finally built the divider that it needed between French and Spanish, each language existing in its own labeled file in my mind. I only pulled out Spanish during Spanish class and French during French class (or when out and about in Switzerland). Today I’m nearly fluent in Spanish. My listening skills have improved vastly, and I feel as though I can pull out words without too much additional thought. My French is still decent, although I no longer take it in college. I’ve even tried to teach myself some Portuguese, something that comes easily because of my knowledge of other romance languages. So what am I getting at here? That learning another language is a challenge, but it can be exciting. It requires patience, time, and dedication (or perhaps being forced by your crazy international school in Europe). I learned how each language is unique and set up differently. English and French can’t always be directly translated, and that’s part of the fun: finding your own way to convey similar messages through different systems of communication. Learning other languages makes my mind feel flexible. Thinking in Spanish during certain moments throughout the day adds another dimension of color to my life, even if only I can feel it. Not to mention, I’m excited to eventually go on a term abroad to South America, where I will be able to actually communicate with others in this language. Learn another language– it’s one of the best things you can do for your brain, or at least, in my opinion.