Oh, how I love foreign languages! In living abroad for the last 4 years, I have found that language and culture are inextricably bound together. Throughout the journeys of learning first Spanish, and now Italian, the languages have been windows into the locals’ ways of life. It has provided me with a deeper understanding of common conversations and interactions that I have both participated in and observed. Even in Australia and New Zealand, where English is the official language, I find myself learning new words and expressions, which in turn teach me more about the cultures in this part of the world.
In my opinion, Spanish and Italian are both much more expressive languages than English. There are some phrases that just don’t directly translate well into my mother tongue. I must attribute this partially to the fact that one’s native language perhaps always appears more mundane because of it’s lack of foreign intrigue. Of course, there are also expressions in English (like “it’s raining cats and dogs”) that make absolutely no sense at all when translated into another language.
Somehow, “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco” in Italian sounds so much more beautiful to me than it’s English equivalent - “Not all doughnuts come out with a hole.” (An expression meaning that “things don’t always turn out as planned.”) And why does “murciélago” in Spanish sound so much more elegant than the single-syllable word “bat” (the animal) in English?
Another aspect of both Latin America and Italy that has interested me, is the way that “I love you” is said in these cultures. In both Spanish and Italian, there is more than one way to tell someone you love them, and with each, slightly different meanings are implied.
The two most basic forms of saying “I love you”: In Spanish, you can say either “Te amo” or “Te quiero.” In Italian you can say “Ti amo” or “Ti voglio bene.” The first version in both languages generally refers to romantic love, something you would probably say to your spouse. The second version is more casual, a way to tell a friend that you love them. In English we don’t really have this distinction at all.
We loosely throw around the word “love” in English - I think it’s kind of a shame that we use the same word to refer to our reactions to food (“I love pizza”) or an activity (“I love dancing”) as we do to our relationships with fellow human beings. I’ve said that I “love foreign languages.” But in both Italian and Spanish, the phrase seems to be reserved for when it is truly meant; it is regarded as more precious, and I think that hints a bit at the cultures themselves.
I am so thankful for the friendships I have made while abroad. It’s pretty cool how people so different from one another can form lasting relationships - People who come from literally opposite corners of the planet, who may hardly speak the same language, who have strikingly different ways of being raised, who have different economic or academic backgrounds…
It is refreshing to be around people so completely different from oneself, and somehow the plethora of differences has actually made me realize how similar we are at our core as humans: No matter how we express it, we all have the need to love and to be loved.
It is amazing to me how God has created such diversity in His people - in the languages they speak and the cultures they live in - but at the same time has given us some innate desires and needs that at our core unite us. How beautifully orchestrated is creation!
I pray that I may continue to learn from the people the Lord surrounds me with in different parts of the world - there is so much to learn, even just from the simple things like how to say “I love you.”
I believe in God's grace through Jesus. I love to learn, in a variety of contexts - reading God's Word, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds around the world, and as a student of Linguistics and Foreign Languages at Western Washington University. Pages of My Passport is dedicated to sharing this journey of learning through written and visual content.