»Sex was the lingua franca – we learned to talk later«
This professor claims that learning languages changes us – and our society – for the better.
I met Amanda at a Spanish beach on a hot August day: She was funny, self-confident and so beautiful that I didn’t know, if my throat was so dry because of the heat or because of her. We smiled at each other, talked for a while and our conversation went so well that we planned a date for the evening.
But already when ordering drinks, I should have noticed that there was something fishy about the evening.
Me: »Una cerveza por favor.«
Barkeeper: »Una jarra chico?«
Me: »No, solamente una cerveza por favor.«
Barkeeper: »Jarra o caña?« In English: Me: »One beer, please.« Barkeeper: »A pint, boy?«. Me: »Erm no, just a beer, please.» Barkeeper: »Yes, a pint or a small one?« Ordering a beer in Spanish can be difficult: A »Jarra« is the Spanish word for a 0.5-liter-mug. If I had known the correct word for a large beer, I wouldn’t have ordered a beer (»cerveza«), but would have simply agreed.
While I tried to focus on my Spanish, I missed Amanda’s next question. She smiled at me. And while I interpreted her deep look as being fascinated by my Italian eyes, she was really just waiting for an answer to her question. Of course, I realized that too late and couldn’t help feeling insecure about my poor Spanish. The evening was ruined.
Later, when walking back alone at the beach, I wondered: Would the evening have gone different without our language barrier? Was I simply unable to express my feelings »properly« in another language? Or was I maybe even a different person in another language; is there a »Spanish Daniel«, an »Italian Daniel«, and so on?
To find out, I talked to Jean-Marc Dewaele. Not only did he raise his daughter in 3 languages, but he is also a renowned Professor of Applied Linguistics, Multilingualism as well as a book author. Based on the research he and others did, he is convinced that multilingualism has a huge potential – not only for each individual, but also to contribute to a better society.
Titelbild: Tobias Kaiser - copyright
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