Language - the mirror of our soul

Published on 17th May, 2010 in Global Bloggers by Leah Kaplan

letterSometimes when I’m reading a book in Italian, I’ll stop and look at the page, surprised that I understand those words. I’ll unfocus my eyes and look at the words and letters as an abstract piece of art, as I did when I was 16 and came to Italy for the first time on vacation. I had found the language so visually beautiful that I hung posters on my wall at home just because I liked the way all those Italian ‘z’ and ‘i’ and ‘s’ letters looked together and enjoyed the way they sounded coming off my tongue, regardless of their meaning. Today I look at the pages, amazed that I can decipher the code without even having to think about it.

Learning a language is learning to live the world in a different way, to see it with different eyes, like when an object in one language is given a name based on its form and in another on its function. Most people set out to learn a language in order to apply it practically when travelling or working, some are fortunate enough to internalise the language to an extent that it becomes a part of them, like their blood and fingers and heart. It is claimed that Charlemagne once said, ‘to have another language is to possess a second soul’.

When Barbara, my punk-chic boss that I wrote about some time ago, and I speak it’s never clear what language will come out, Italian or English. Sometimes it depends on the topic or whether we’re in a good or bad mood (as anyone who has driven in Italy can tell you, Italian is much more colourful when you need to vent your anger). Sometimes I’ll say something in Italian and she’ll respond in English. Which is logical, right? Of course an American would say something in Italian and the Italian would respond in English. But when language enters into your soul, it is like a Martini: once it’s made you’ll never be able to separate the gin from the vermouth again.

As this is my last post, I’d like to thanks the folks at Macmillan for letting me ramble on about my thoughts on language and teaching (which are often susceptible to weather, mood and volcanic eruptions) and most of all for giving me the chance to experiment with Global, a book that really does offer language from a different perspective. And a big thanks to the ‘Global English’ articles by David Crystal on what makes language more than just words and sentences but ultimately the mirror of our soul.

Photo credit: jude_bird_86. Creative Commons Licence


  • Hi there Leah,
    Can I just say on behalf of the Global author team that it has been a pleasure to read your posts too! I’ve enjoyed the way you convey different aspects of living in Italy through language instruction. Great stuff, and it’s been a honour to have you in here! Thanks again.

    Lindsay Clandfield on 18 May, 2010
  • Thank you Lindsay! I’ve really enjoyed the books…I’d been looking for something that pushed my students to actually “think”, going beyond the language.

    Leah on 20 May, 2010
  • I couldn’t agree more with this article and with Charlemagne or whoever thought or said first that ‘to have another language is to possess a second soul’and I’d also say to enjoy another life. I hope more and more people see the benefits of a multilingual world rather than a global monolingual one

    Ros on 24 May, 2010
  • Indeed language is the mirror of the collective soul or its culture; already with the choice of words which express feelings, gives a profound insight into a culture. In India, to express affection, people use the word ‘jan’ – life in Hindi; placing the loved one into ones life.

    In English love or dear is used meaning expensive and in German ‘Schatz’ is simply treasure. An explanation why India lost the Kohinoor diamond so easily; perhaps, they didn’t value treasure as much as their love-life.

    Nighat Siddiqi on 31 May, 2010