How Learning Languages Changed My View of the World
August 24, 2019
The link between language and how we view the world is something that has always fascinated me. Language isn’t just a tremendous form of communication, it’s also intertwined and influenced by culture and history. It saddens me how much high school ruins languages for so many people. I hear countless people say
“Oh I took French in high school” but five years later they’re left with practically nothing. Something so wonderful is turned into a chore and into something that you have to suffer through. The experience of learning and mastering a new language is incomparable. It’s truly unlike anything else. And more than ever I think we need to be learning other languages to bridge the gaps that exist between us. So I thought I would share my experience learning foreign languages and the journey that it has taken me on. I’m going to start from the beginning here. So I technically come from a bilingual household. Both of my parents are from Argentina. When I tell people this they usually think “oh so you must have been bilingual your entire life.” and that is very far from the truth.
I wish things were that simple. It’s true that Spanish was my first language
and I spoke it until the age of four. but both my parents speak excellent English and when I started to go to school in the United States where I grew up, and where I was born, I quickly lost any ability to speak, or even understand, Spanish. English very quickly became the only language that was present in my life. When I was 13 my family took a trip to Panama. and I remember not being able to understand anything that the locals were saying and that became a huge source of frustration and embarrassment. I felt limited. I can’t speak Spanish. Not being able to speak the language that the vast majority of my family could speak felt like this massive, insurmountable obstacle that was blocking me from my own roots and from interacting with tons of different people. Due to a long series of events and me desperately trying to get out of the US public school system I managed to convince a Rotary Club to sponsor me to study for a year in France. I was 16 so this was still in high school and looking back, this was a very pivotal moment in my life. I’ve mentioned France a couple times in previous videos of mine, but it’s difficult for me to describe just how formative this year was for me. So, August of 2014 I suddenly find myself in a new continent, and unable to understand practically anything anyone is saying around me. I was starting from scratch.
I could only speak English. France up to that point was just this far off place that I had only had the most superficial understanding of. Just stereotypes really. The people don’t wash themselves.
They eat snails. And that they wear stripes. If you take a moment to think about it, it’s really a limited view of how things really are. I knew that to bridge the gap I had to start speaking the language of the people. And it was crazy what that was like. People literally construct their thoughts differently in other languages so in a sense you’re learning a new way of thinking. I was absorbing every word that I possibly could and for the first few months I was there
so much slipped through my fingers like water. I remember being so tired at the end of every day because I was desperately trying to grasp on to what was taking place around me. But with time it was like my brain started to connect the dots, and little by little I was able to put my thoughts and feelings into words that were new to my lips. It gave me a better understanding and appreciation of my upbringing, and where I come from. In so many moments during my time in Europe, I was made to reconsider my ideas and opinions. It’s kinda like when you’re looking at a math problem, and you say to yourself
“Holy cow, there’s so much I wasn’t considering here” I returned to the US after that year abroad
and it was immediately apparent to me that I was addicted. If I could do this once,
who’s to say it couldn’t be done again? And that’s exactly what I did. I saved up my money for a couple of years and then I left to live for a few months in Argentina. Once again I was in a place that I knew very little about and was really putting myself in foreign circumstances. This time it was a little bit different.
I was digging into my past. The history of my family. I don’t want this to sound like it was all perfect and easy. It actually ended up becoming a very difficult period in my life on an emotional level. But what I’m saying here is that yeah, okay maybe it was difficult. But it was absolutely worth it. That experience gave me a level of gratitude for what I have that I did not have before. I’ve had amazing work opportunities thanks to the fact that I speak Spanish. I mean there are more native Spanish speakers than there are native English speakers. Kinda crazy. Due to very poor media coverage, I originally had a very two-dimensional perspective on things but I walked away from my time there with completely new eyes. I think one of the biggest lessons that I learned is that there’s almost always more than one way to do things.
You know? To prepare food, to socialize, to structure society. What blows my mind is that there’s an unlimited amount of opportunities to have this kind of experience. Every time you learn a new language you’re interfacing with and encountering new things. It’s not just pizza and pasta.
There’s a whole universe to explore. It’s difficult, it’s not easy to learn a new language.
But it’s worth it. I think the trick is to have really solid habits in place and also to play to your strengths. Go towards the things that interest and excite you. I’ve come to realize that languages exist in many forms. Of course there’s French, Spanish, and Italian but music is also a language. Coding is a language. Film and photography are visual languages. All of these things that were learned and incorporated into your life are enriching and expand what is possible in your present reality. These languages are just ways to connect dots and to put meaning into your time here on this planet. If there’s one thing that I hope you walk away with after having watched this video it’s that, even though throwing yourself into the unknown and learning a new way of seeing the world is difficult extremely difficult, it is worth it. So, So,