The Sentimentality of a Polyglot

I’m sure I’ve waxed eloquent on how different languages communicate identities and the values and the beliefs of various communities. But this is really only relevant to the people who grew up speaking the language. Polyglots like Benny Lewis and Luca Lampiarello frequently talk about how different languages allow them to interact and understand other people. While I can’t speak for every polyglot, I believe there is a certain amount of self-discovery in becoming a polyglot.  Languages are reflections of the same human experience, seen from different angles. As a human, I share many experiences with people across the globe. Our mother tongues differ, which makes certain things more apparent or important to us. But if one learns other languages, one is greatly more aware of things we do that seemed normal once, and are odd to others.In this post, I’m going to talk about what the languages I speak reveal about myself, rather than what they reveal about communities and cultures to me. Note: I’m not going to talk about Kannada and English, since I grew up speaking them.


Spanish was my third language, and I began learning it in middle school. This was purely as a matter of course, rather than me wanting to learn it, as we had to learn a foreign language as a part of our education. It was really only in my fourth year of study that I really began to appreciate the language, as we began to examine more genuine texts in the language. There were things in the text that were deeply foreign to me, and that inspired me to learn more about them. I wanted to know what Spanish speakers thought, and how they saw the world. Learning Spanish provided an opportunity for me to take a step outside of myself, and see the world differently for the first time.


I must admit that I learned Italian on a whim. I thought the language was beautiful, that the country of Italy was fascinating. Italian was similar to Spanish, but I wanted to speak this rhythmic and melodic language, which felt very different from the more dramatic Spanish. Italian was carefree and light, qualities that I personally lacked at the time. I was a very serious and severe sort of person, and Italian was the polar opposite of what I was. Italian allowed me to open up and become less stiff as a person. It was through the Italian language that I really embarked on the journey to becoming a polyglot.


Despite having grown up around mostly North Indian family friends who spoke Hindi, and watching Bollywood, Hindi did not appeal to me initially. I saw no use in learning it, as anyone who spoke Hindi almost invariably spoke English as well. I only began to appreciate Hindi after I began listening to more music in Hindi and in Urdu. My father explained verses to me, and I thought the poetry about God and love was beautiful. Such poetry allowed me to appreciate my heritage more, because Urdu was the language of our poetry, and Hindi was our national language. It inspired a pride in my background, as I had been once apathetic and unappreciative of what my culture had to offer.


In a rather comical way, I started learning Korean because I was reading about the language on my phone in the middle of Biology, during the break between lectures. The language was interesting, because unlike Spanish, Italian, or Hindi, the Korean language’s dynamics were much more deeply rooted in a system of familial and social hierarchy. While not an unfamiliar construct, it was a system that I did not observe in my own home. My own culture and language placed an emphasis on respect for superiors and elders, but because I spoke mostly English at home, it often did not manifest itself. Even now, as I’m learning more Korean, it has made me aware of my deep lack of manners and respect for my parents. Korean led me to correct my ways in treating my elders and understand them differently. Oddly enough, it was a foreign language that allowed me to connect with people at home, rather than abroad.


Catalan was my first step into the world of the minority. People found it exceedingly strange that I chose to learn a language of the small nation of Spain, spoken in an even smaller province called Catalonia. I had read much about Catalan nationalism in Spain, and I was interested to learn the language of these people. In doing so, I saw articles that openly criticized Spain, and fostered a respect for the opinion of the minority. It seemed awful that one’s own language was being silenced, effectively blocking out one’s heritage at the same time. It made me realize that I wanted to help the minority gain equal respect from others, no matter who it was.


The most recent addition to my languages, Portuguese piqued my interest because it was spoken by two underrated (perhaps “under-discussed” is a better word) countries in the world: Brazil and Portugal. Nobody really talked about either country, or the language. In the same vein as my reasons for learning Catalan, I wanted to learn Portuguese because it was off the beaten track. It was not common, and to make it even stranger, I chose the European variety of Portuguese, which very few, if any, were likely to speak in the US. European Portuguese, much like myself, is a rather sentimental language. Fado, the national music of Portugal, is a very tragic and melancholy form, deeply involved in the misfortunes of life. Portuguese is the vessel of my own sentimentality and emotional beliefs.

I hope you found this piece about myself interesting. Please go ahead and share this on Tumblr and Facebook and wherever else. Feel free to comment and share your own experiences in learning languages.

3 Really Good Reasons to Learn Portuguese

We always go on and on about the professional merits of learning languages, and subordinate the cultural and internal benefits. Here, I’m going to give you 5 good, non-job-related reasons to learn Portuguese.

1. The music and dance. Portugal and Brazil have rich musical and dance traditions. Brazil is particularly strong in both, with its extravagant festivals for Carnival that include samba accompanied by loud, upbeat music. Portugal’s fado is also quite famous, and has two variants: fado de Lisboa and fado de Coimbra. The first simply refers to the kind that originated in Lisbon, which is often mournful, slow, and a bit emotional (lots of unrequited love, poverty, and misery). The second, which is from the city of Coimbra, is the polar opposite, being fast, lively, and extremely optimistic. Portugal is home to many folk dances as well, if you’re interested in the more traditional roots of the Luso-Brazilian culture.

2. The people. Brazilian and Portuguese people are very different, which can also be seen in the language. Brazilian people are very upbeat, happy, and inclusive people. Brazilians typically say a gente (the people) to mean, “us”. They also don’t have the tu-vous distinction with tu (informal) and você (formal), using only the latter to say, “you”. Brazilian Portuguese is also very prone to making innocent words into those of a sexual nature. If you learn Portuguese from my guide, you’ll see this. Brazilians very much want to be your friend.

Portuguese people, on the other hand, are more traditional, especially when it comes to the language, preserving spellings that aren’t even observed in the spoken language. Portuguese people are very big on manners and formalities, but this is not to say that Portuguese people are uptight. Portuguese people appreciate people who follow social conventions, and are very willing to help you if you just ask. The Portuguese people also have a great respect for their elders and their family, and becoming a friend of the family is a sign of being a good friend to them.

3. A greater sense of emotion. Portuguese has this wonderful thing called saudade, which, while being concise, roughly translates to the nostalgia you feel when recalling something that has gone away, and will most likely never return. Portuguese is a good language for emotion, particularly regarding love. The word apaixonar-se technically means, “to fall in love,” but is usually used in the present tense, which has a special meaning in Portuguese. It describes the feeling of continually experiencing love and being more enamored with the other person.

That’s all I’ve got for today! Please leave any comments you might have, reblog this post, and/or share/like it on Facebook!