There are many definitions of the term “multilingualism”. Some linguists say that you’re multilingual if you speak one language and can say and understand words in another. For others, being multilingual is much more complex and depends on how fluent you are in the languages you speak. I personally think it’s a matter of the feelings you have towards each language. I’m going to share with you my experiences of language learning!
First encounters with a foreign language
Can you have feelings for a language? Trust me, you can and you certainly do! This is because a language is intrinsically related to your identity and your personal life. I grew up in Argentina and only spoke Spanish until I moved to Italy when I was 12. My mum always tells me that at the very beginning I refused to speak for a couple of weeks! The days passed and I gradually started to absorb the Italian language and culture. I made friends and started to realise that speaking a new language wasn’t that bad after all.
From Latin languages to English
When I was at secondary school in Italy, I studied French, English and Latin. Even though Latin is a dead language now, believe me it helps to understand the logic behind a language… and it’s fascinating! Then, when I was 19 I moved to London, England, thinking I would be fine because I already spoke “some” English from learning it at school. Well, that wasn’t the case at all! English sounded like Arabic to me and I was desperate. I thought I would never become fluent. I started watching films in English, listening to the radio, and I even forced myself to be surrounded by native English speakers. I made friends once again. One of my very first friends is Irish and some people say her accent is strong. Now, somehow I find it the most understandable and the clearest of all – maybe because it brings back good memories of my time in London.
When my English had improved, I decided to go to university in London to study Linguistics and French. The third year had to be spent abroad and I went to Reunion Island (a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean) – one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been to! If you don’t know where it is, look it up and you’ll understand why. Anyway, when I first arrived, I felt the same as I had felt in England. But, making friends helped me overcome this linguistic barrier (once again!). I ended up speaking only French for almost a year and the friends I made there are still some of the most precious I have. Some of them are from England and I speak to them in French, simply because that’s how our friendship started.
Learning languages opens doors
I went back to England, finished my degree and started working at busuu specialising in French and Spanish. I’m now one of the Italian Language Experts creating our new Italian courses. I love all the languages I speak because of what they all mean to me and how they have all touched my identity in some way. I’m now living in Colombia and I’m back to speaking my mother tongue on a day-to-day basis which for me feels somewhat empowering!
Let me end with one thing: it’s never too late to become multilingual. And remember, busuu is always here to help you! Our online language learning community and Conversations exercises let you interact with native speakers of the language you’re learning and make friends just like I did. So pick a new language you like, get out your comfort zone and get stuck in!