On Multilingualism and Relationships

Recently I borrowed Elena Lappin’s memoir “What Language Do I Dream In?” from the library.

And even though I have not read the book yet, it has already got me thinking.

The book opens with three quotes, amongst them a Czech proverb: Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem. (“However many languages you know, that’s how many times a person you are.”/”You have as many lives as the languages you speak.”)

The proverb sounded vaguely familiar; I think that my mother, who is fluent in almost six languages, would have said it on more than one occasion, probably when encouraging her students to be more committed to their English studies.

This proverb perfectly summarises what I have felt over the last few years. 

I am fluent in three languages (Czech, English and Russian).

I understand Polish quite well and it has become a very familiar and comforting language to me over the last few years.

I’m also learning German at university and it is a language that I was widely exposed to as a young child.

With every language, I feel as though a whole new world opens to me, a world of music, of films, of stories and much more, that I cannot share with anyone who does not speak that particular language.

And so you end up with friends in many corners of the world, but each of those friends knows only a small part of you, the part that exists within the confines of the language that you share.

I find intercultural marriages rather interesting (partly because I think that an intercultural marriage is inevitable in my case of having grown up exposed to so many different cultures). More specifically, I am interested to observe and learn about the kind of interpersonal skills it takes to make such a relationship work.

Is it possible for a human emotion to be powerful enough to overcome the many misunderstandings created by language differences?


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