This quote is often attributed to the Spanish poet and 1956 Nobel Prize in Literature Juan Rámon Jiménez.
Since I like to make sure my sources are accurate and reliable, I decided to find the piece of work it is taken from but, even though I carried out my research in Spanish, I couldn’t find which of his books this quotation was from. Fortunately, I have a Spanish former student who very readily agreed to help me out and managed to find it in Ideolojía, the book of aphorisms, volume IV of Metamórfosis *. Many thanks to him! 🙂
Yet, oh, surprise! Juan Rámon Jiménez actually wrote this sentence explaining it was a quote he had found in the preface of the book he used when he started learning German, which means he is not the author of that quote.
I never need more than this to arouse my curiosity, so I switched languages and carried on searching, but in German this time, determined to delve into the matter.
New surprise! The German version** of that quote is easy to find and looking it up taught me that this quote is actually a Czech proverb. Great but… if I can read German and Spanish, I can’t read Czech at all! 🙁
So, that’s how and where my research ended, and as a consequence, I will not be in a position to tell you more about the origin of this quote.
Right, let’s focus on what it tells us then:
He who learns a new language acquires a new soul.
In his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire indicates that the word soul “signifies that which animates.” It stems from the Latin word “anima”, which means breath or inspiration.
I like that concept for it entails that learning a new language means we can acquire a new breath or inspiration, we can be animated by something new.
That is precisely what I feel when I learn a new language. It seems that each new learnt language, or each new step forward in the learning process, gives me access to a new world in which I can draw a new kind of strength where spirit, thought, feelings and what we can indeed call soul merge and vitalise me.
In the same way, that is also what I think is so important to try and pass on in my language classes. How can I transmit this inspiration, this soul intrinsic to the language I am teaching? What an exciting challenge! For each language has its own soul, doesn’t it?
How about you? Whether a language learner or teacher, what are your thoughts about this quote?
* Ideolojía (1897-1957) – Metamórfosis, IV – Juan Rámon Jiménez “Quien aprende una nueva lengua adquiere una nueva alma”
** In German : “Mit jeder neu gelernten Sprache, erwirbt man eine neue Seele.”