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The Campanile

Language aids discovery of identity, perspectives of world

Art by Kate Xia

I was raised bilingual, switching between Bulgarian with my mother to English with my father. In middle school, I moved abroad for two years to Italy and Germany and gained fluency in both languages.

However, upon returning to the U.S., I felt out of place. My life abroad was immersed in different cultures and languages through which I discovered new ways to express myself. When I tried stepping back into my old life in Palo Alto, I couldn’t fit back in.

Being multilingual is something many Paly students can relate to. But the number of languages a person speaks means nothing compared to the new perspective of the world peole gain from each language.

According to Eva Drago, co-founder of language learning app Beelinguapp, many people change their personality and the way they interact with others based on what language they speak, and I agree. I am a different person in each of my languages.

For example, when I speak Italian, I am more expressive and emotive than when I speak English. The Italian language contains a variety of synonyms to describe feelings I cannot find words for in English. Even the sound of the words match their meaning: the s-sound of ‘susurare,’ which translates to ‘murmur,’ phonetically captures the sound of the word’s meaning.

In contrast, I find German to be a more powerful language – one that commands confidence. The orderly structure of German society and the German language changes the way I act: more reserved and independent.

Through the process of learning these languages, I discovered new corners within my identity and new lenses with which to view the world. People who speak multiple languages see their surroundings differently because they have and hold different perspectives that add depth to what they are seeing, especially with their newfound insights.

Another example is reading literature or watching films in a different language. Although English has risen in popularity and is often considered the modern global language, it is not the center of the world. Consuming English translations of a work is incomparable to the experience of reading a book in its original language. There are so many words, concepts and emotions that cannot be translated into any one language.

Learning languages has allowed me to open my mind and explore my identity. We are all living in this world, yet the way we experience it is different for each person.For me, it is like looking at life through a colored lens. Certain objects pop out immediately whereas others blend into a sea of hues.

I used to steal colored panels from my father when I was younger. I would put them up to my eye and peer out the window with a pink color gel. 

As the world fell into various shades of pink, I noticed bright white restaurant shades stood out to me, whereas the green of the leaves blended into the walls of buildings. By learning different languages I am gaining access to different realities. For me, my languages, like the stolen color panels of my youth, add so much more to the world.

We should all step back and take pride in our multicultural and multilingual community at Paly, full of students from different backgrounds, and acknowledge each individual brings a different flavor to our lives.

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Olivia Atkinson, News & Opinion Editor
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