The Language Nook – Le coin langues

Quote: He who learns a new language acquires a new soul - Czech proverb

He who learns a new language acquires a new soul

by | 18 May 2016 | Quotes


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.”


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  1. ellen

    I know exactly what you mean. I always tried to describe it as an understanding of the thought process of a culture. The logic of the language somehow gave me insights into how the people think and how they made decisoons. Don’t know if that’s clear? After learning French I was happier living in France. I stopped asking the same question “Why in the world are they doing that? ” and started accepting their way of thinking.

    • Yolaine

      Thank you for your input Ellen. I certainly see what you mean. It shows we cannot think language and ignore the culture and way of thinking that goes with it, which may explain why learning a language goes well beyond stringing words together and can be so fulfilling.

  2. Stuart Hewer

    The quote originally comes from Charles V (1500-1558), the Holy Roman Emperor

    • Yolaine Bodin

      Thank you for your input Stuart. That’s really interesting since Charles V was also ruler of the Spanish Empire… which may explain that this quote might be better known in Spanish… (?)


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