Educación, Psicología & Ciencia

Cognitive Processing in Bilinguals: Serbian, English, Spanish & Italian

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I met Lena two years ago in Tetovo, Macedonia (Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia); we spent 10 days together collaborating in “a fascinating project”. – Lena speaks perfectly four languages! Serbian, English, Spanish and Italian…


Macedonia- 2014

I remember her as a very good communicator, highly respected and trusted and with an extraordinary ability to build relationships. I was fascinated with her ability to speak Spanish; of course, she is bilingual in Serbian and English. I couldn´t believe during those 10 days that she´d taught herself Spanish (and today I discovered that she also speaks Italian). Speechless!

I enjoyed a lot reading Lena´s opinion; I found the perfect “polyglot example”. She told me once “you have to listen to a language as music

Today, she mentioned stories, drawings, songs, lyrics, her teacher´s personality, the constructive part of learning as a tool to rediscover oneself and how ditching perfectionism helps on the process.

It was inspiring to read her messages… giving feedback about what she understood, participating, asking questions for clarification and always listening what others want to say or express; I´m bringing back memories – Tetovo!

Each time my inbox gets these reminders; I am flooded with nice memories. It´s very exciting to see how people that one day you met, and with who you spent valuable time are doing great things with their lives. It doesn´t matter how many years have passed by, projects create and an amazing connection between people which is difficult to explain through words.

So, here´s Lena and how she learned four languages …

I speak 4 languages in total, Serbian being my native language; I also speak English, Spanish, and Italian. In my case, L1 would be Serbian, L2 English, L3 Spanish, and L4 Italian. I was taught English and Italian in school, I started learning English in third grade and Italian in 5th grade of elementary school.

 I learned Spanish completely on my own.

I guess at the beginning I didn’t have a special reason for learning languages. My interest in English increased after taking a course, I guess it was because I got better at it and my performance in school got better too. I remember I liked the book we used at the course more than the one in regular classes, it had stories and drawings and it was more fun to learn languages in that way, it kept me interested longer than regular lessons.

What made me love Italian was my teacher, we had a young teacher and she was really dedicated and warm with all of us, everybody loved her, when our teacher changed, I was still good at learning, but I wasn’t as interested. In the middle of that, I started learning Spanish. When I was a kid, Latin American soap operas were popular, after watching them for a while I realized I understood everything they were saying without having to look at the subtitles. After that, I started searching online for songs, song lyrics, series, movies, poetry and texts in Spanish, even newspapers, everything that was in Spanish was super interesting to me, whenever I’d find something new I’d feel excited. I asked my brother to buy me a Spanish dictionary for my birthday and I was sooo excited when I got a massive dictionary. What a nerd 🙂

I find it easier to express my feelings and thoughts directly in English, I guess I am more straightforward when I speak in English, in my language I often find it hard to say things exactly the way they are, in English it’s easier. When it comes to Spanish, I always say it brings out my pathetic side; – I’m cursi in Spanish 🙂 My friends also tell me I sound cute in Spanish and sexy in English. And one of the reasons I didn’t get pass the intermediate level of Italian is because I think Spanish and Italian are so similar, so I get confused when speaking Italian. But I do understand mostly everything in all of the songs I’ve listened, I can watch a movie in Italian without subtitles and I won’t understand everything, but most of it, yes.

I sometimes think all of the languages I learn helped me get to know myself better, through learning languages I figured out I’m not one dimensional, I have layers and different traits of personality, and all of them combined make who I am as a person. I am also more outgoing and self-confident when I speak foreign languages, maybe it is because I already know I’m good at it.

My advice for everyone learning or teaching languages is to think about the methodology, I learned the most when I didn’t even realize I was learning. Don’t approach it as a task, but as a past time, hobby, something you enjoy, see the mistakes and failures as an opportunity to grow and soon you’ll be a polyglot! During one period of time, I was giving English lessons to a kid and I would give him a treat every time he’d try to do an exercise and make a mistake, explaining to him that it doesn’t matter if he does not get it right for the first time, what matters is he’s trying and he’s engaged and interested in learning. His mother told me two months ago he won the second place in the National competition in English for high school students!

Don’t be afraid of talking even if you’re not perfect at it, the important thing is to be able to communicate, a wrongly written/said word is what matters the least.

Gracias Lena por colaborar y compartir tus experiencias ❤

Te esperamos siempre en España! 🙂

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Autor: Lorena Álvarez

Psicóloga, activista, trotamundos y una apasionada por la ciencia y las letras.

Un pensamiento en “Cognitive Processing in Bilinguals: Serbian, English, Spanish & Italian

  1. Lore, tienes una forma tan especial de describir a las personas que haces que las apreciemos antes de conocerlas. A veces pienso si esas personas existen, o si son un recurso literario que utilizas para trasmitir tus ideas. Un placer leerte, aunque estamos deseando que te vuelvas a pasar hacia el español. Un abrazo.


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