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  • Amanda George

Vir, uomo, hombre, man: the benefits of language learning


I am currently learning three languages, in addition to my native English. Every morning, first thing, I spend around an hour learning Latin, Italian and Spanish, using an app. Although I studied Italian at school, and Latin at university, I am new to Spanish. While I have totally neglected my Latin degree, and feel like a beginner again, it feels like I have been learning Italian my whole life. But I have always approached languages in isolation.


Now I have decided to embrace them as one, as an experiment, to see if my brain can accommodate them all at once, if learning three at once is helpful, or if I spontaneously combust with the confusion! Research shows that learning a second language makes picking up additional languages much easier, especially among children. When you learn a new language, apparently you develop new brain networks that are ready and waiting when you embark on learning a third language.


It’s certainly an interesting process. The structure of Italian is helping me to understand Spanish. For example, both languages have two ways of ‘being’ (essere/stare, ser/estar), indicating essential and temporary states of being, respectively, whereas in English we just ‘are’. But I am struggling to open my brain up to all the new vocabulary in Spanish. Why is a car macchina in Italian but carro in Spanish? How can I connect the two in my mind? Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to make connections.


And what about word order? I still sometimes get the word order wrong in Italian, so what hope have I of totally getting to grips with it in Spanish and Latin? In fact, Latin and word order is a combination that is destined to frustrate! Let’s not go there.


So, what is the purpose of all this language learning? For one thing, it has already helped me in my editing, as I work with many native Spanish speakers and now I can easily spot (and translate) any Spanish words they have left in their texts by mistake. And knowing how their language is structured helps me to diagnose (for want of a better word) why they have written something a certain way, and therefore to correct it. Leaving syntax aside, it makes me feel more connected to my clients, who I admire for being able to write coherent texts and speak proficiently in another language.


Finally, as well as being able to say ‘man’ in four different ways, I’m looking forward to the cognitive benefits of language learning, making new connections with non-native English speakers, improving my business offering, and apparently boosting my confidence and strengthening my decision-making. What's not to like?

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