Learning a new language as a reflection of yourself

Pianos. Bikes. Mattresses. Cameras. Glasses. These are all inventions that were created with the benefit of language. Language seems so intimate to us and visceral to our life experiences. Indeed, it is hard to differentiate language from thought. They seem so interchangeable, but they are not. There’s a difference between what is innate to us and what is not, between what is universal and what is learned.

Language is a building block. The untrained brain — that is, the mind without language — is but the map of a virgin rainforest, untouched by humans and living by its own rhythm. A language of its own, we might like to say, except it has none. It is the absence of language; nothing about it is learned. And these blocks build-up to culture. Language is the collective brain of an entire people, and as a young infant learns a language, she becomes one more link in that particular network of human ingenuity.

French is subtle. Its tones and accentuations are soft and smooth, like the creamy pastries and soups its cuisine is celebrated for. Its flow is legato, like simmering melodies or the brushstrokes of a lily pad pond on an impressionist canvas. But French also flirts with equivocality. Aimer can mean everything from obsessive love to the faintest inclination of acknowledgment. French is rational, with a signature dab of eccentricism. It is the language of the enlightenment, of the metric system, of hot air balloons and baguettes.

Spanish is passionate. “Amor” is just one of a million different words and adjectives to describe in liveliest detail the rapture of an enamored heart. Yet, Spanish is honorable. A language of chivalry and gentlemen, of tradition and loyalty, of family values and proud obstinance, although we’d rather call it endurance. Spanish is loud. Staccato punctuates the air as a warm family gathering bustles around a table feast.

English is practical. Conjugations are simple. Articles don’t have gender. Everything is contracted. This is that, and that is this. Any other language you stick a word of into English sounds incredibly fancy. But that is because English isn’t made for lumières to ponder; it’s made to put man on the moon. English is future-oriented. Unlike in other languages, here adjectives precede nouns. Big house, fast car, bright future. English is accomodating. It makes spelling rules it doesn’t care about in the slightest.

Each culture is unique and different, but all are learned. And in the learning of that first language in our infancy — which of course we don’t remember — we lose our wilderness of thought, drawing demarcations on the map in our brain around the country we were born or whatever that first language might be, and leaving the rest of our brain unexplored. One day we might decide to venture out into the unexplored, to make new roads and draw new demarcations along the way. In learning a new language, we rediscover parts of ourselves we had lost contact with when we became fluent in our first.

While learning a new language, you find yourself enraptured in an inexpressible kind of ecstasy at rediscovering those lost parts of yourself. Any time you experience a new culture, it feels foreign but also, strangely, so familiar. In some aspects, it is much less foreign than that first one you’ve been used to for so long.

The biggest joys perhaps, are those first signs of fluency in a second or third language after months of hard work. You surprise yourself waking up from a dream dreamt in a different language, and you triumphantly realize that that night, you ventured deep into that foreign unexplored, and you never ventured out.