How learning a new language changes you

I was asked a very interesting question recently: how has learning a language changed me? At first I thought it was a strange question, and that just learning something new surely wouldn't change my personality and the way I behave, but then I thought about how I interact with people and the person I was three or four years ago compared to now. Some changes may be down to maturity and having experienced more of life's significant ups and downs, but in that time I have also tried to expose myself as much as possible to a different culture - attitudes, people, music, TV and perhaps it would be naïve to think this wouldn't result in a change to my own way of thinking.

To begin with, I am definitely more open in terms of getting to know new people, and have become more accustomed to interacting with people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and nationalities. Through learning a language, I have had the pleasure of interacting with some truly fascinating people whose path I would never have crossed otherwise. As a person who was once not all that confident, socially awkward even, I now actively look for opportunities to talk to people, and learning Spanish and Italian coupled with travelling with work means that I have even become a kisser when greeting Mediterranean colleagues!

I also have more faith in my general ability to communicate. On a business trip to Italy when leaving the hotel, I called over to reception and asked for a taxi to the airport in Italian. I don't speak perfect Italian by a long shot, but was confident enough that my message would get across that I just did it. On another trip I went to a street food stall where I had no idea what the menu was but managed to get the message across that I wanted what the guy in front of me had ordered, where in the past I just wouldn't have bothered, thinking I just wouldn't be able to communicate what I wanted. After all, at its core a language is about communicating, which in turn means getting your message across.

Read the rest of this article in our November issue...