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When Olive told us that the upcoming issues would be about human connections through multilingualism a burst of inspiration came to me. Multilingualism has played a major role in shaping my perspective and understanding of the incredible diversity of cultures. It fuelled my thirst to learn about, as much as possible, the differences between me and my friends from abroad.

During my time abroad, I discovered all different types of customs and traditions from my Erasmus mates: mi amiga polaca me enseñó una tradición típica de las bodas polacas que consiste en un

chupito de agua y vodka; mi amiga italiana me enseñaba toda la jerga italiana esencial, y mi amiga

alemana me contaba historias sobre un animado festival que se celebra cada primavera en su ciudad


The beauty of sharing our culture with each other lies not only in the knowledge gained but also in

the bonds that are strengthened from these exchanges, and these cultural exchanges were what I

remember most when looking back at my time in Granada.

When I was in Granada for my year abroad, I was fortunate enough to spend my 21st birthday there (¡y qué mejor manera de celebrarlo que en el sur de España!)

On the evening of my birthday, I invited all my friends over to my flat for a little party and drinks. At the time most of them had been British (other than my French and Italian flatmates). However, throughout my time living with my flatmates I had grown increasingly close with them, so when one of my Italian flatmates told me her Italian friends were also going out that evening, I of course invited all of them over to join the celebration!

That night then became one of my favourite highlights from Granada! At first, it was a bit awkward

as the Italians stuck with the Italians and the Brits stuck with the Brits, but that soon changed when

we all joined to play a classic game of ‘Ring of Fire’ (Or “Círculo de Fuego” as we decided to call it for

the night).

Of course, the Italians had never heard of this drinking game (which is played by so many Brits

before a night out). So, it was our duty to explain to them, as best as we could, the rules of this game

in Spanish.

Se puede imaginarse el caos amistoso que esto provocó, que no hizo más que aumentar a

medida que el juego continuaba. Trying to explain the rules of drawing an Ace card in Spanish to a

group of Italians was certainly not a walk in the park, but through some creative descriptions and

various hand gestures, we managed it in the end.

In fact, this game went down so well that we all ended up creating our own game which came from a mix of ‘Ring of Fire’ and a drinking game from Italy.

Nunca pensé que la noche acabaría así, pero me alegro mucho de que así fuera. Fue divertida,

caótica y animada y, al final de la noche, los dos grupos de británicos e italianos se habían unido

para formar un gran grupo de amigos y amigas.

I had never experienced a party quite like it but somehow, through different languages, and exchanging games from each other’s countries we all seemed to connect. It is by far one of my most memorable nights I had in Granada and my favourite birthday of all!

About The Author: Isabella is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and is currently pursuing a BA in Modern Languages (Spanish and Italian) with Business Management at the University of Birmingham.

Hong Kong is a city with a split personality, juggling its rich Chinese culture with a colonial past and modern-day importance for trade and business.

As a heritage speaker of Cantonese, learning the language through exposure at home rather than at school, I have come to realise that the language which you choose to use has an enormous impact on the extent to which you can connect with other people.

While I spent much of my childhood in Hong Kong speaking English (due to being mixed British Chinese and attending an international school), during a recent trip back to the city, I focused on immersing myself fully in Cantonese.

This allowed me to engage with a whole new side to the city where I have spent half of my life. The differences between English and 廣東話 gwong2 dung1 waa2 (Cantonese) began on the flight to 香港 hoeng1 gong2 (Hong Kong) with different flight attendants addressing me in different languages depending on what I can only assume to be the vibe they were getting from me.

Orange juice or 橙汁 caang2 zap1? Doesn’t matter, I can do both.

This feeling immediately evaporated once I landed in Hong Kong and met my mother (for the first time in eight or nine months) and could not remember how to speak. The next six weeks were a steep learning curve of immersion and grappling with feelings of belonging.

However, the main take-away from my time in Hong Kong was that the more I was able to say in Cantonese to native Cantonese speakers, the more I was able to connect with them.

The most outstanding example of this was the day that I 搭船 daap3 syun4 (took a ferry) to 長洲島 coeng4 zau1 dou2 (Cheung Chau Island) to explore a cave where the famous 18 th -19 th century pirate Cheung Po Tsai was rumoured to have kept his treasure.

While there, I met two guys who could not speak English and were visiting the same cave. This put the onus on me to connect with them in Cantonese.

我係張保仔洞附近遇到佢哋,同佢哋傾過偈。ngo5 hai6 zoeng1 bou2 zai2 dung6 fu6 gan6 jyu6 dou3 keoi5 dei6, tung4 keoi5 dei6 king1 gwo3 gai2. (I met them near Cheung Po Tsai Cave, and had a chat with them).

今次係佢哋第一次嚟,但係我已經嚟咗三次. gam1 ci3 hai6 keoi5 dei6 dai6 jat1 ci3 lai4, daan6 hai6 ngo5 ji5 ging1 lai4 zo2 saam1 ci3. (This was their first time coming, but I had already been three times).

So, I acted tour guide.

In Cantonese.

And for the first time, I felt that my Cantonese was at a high enough level, even if it was still only conversational, to truly connect with other people.

We sat on the rocks, laughed, and took photos with each other. None of this would have happened had I not ventured out of my comfort zone to engage in Cantonese.

This experience was a valuable reminder of the emotional benefits of addressing someone in their native language. The meaningful level of engagement which this allows for gave me an extra motivational push to continue putting work into my Cantonese.

About The Author: Rene is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and an undergraduate student of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge.

I have always been a firm believer that speaking multiple languages makes a person more compassionate.

I have this fundamental belief that my empathetic personality is somehow intertwined with having grown up immersed in a multilingual environment, but have never quite understood why.

Thinking about this recently however, I realised that when we look at human emotion as a language as itself, this link between language and compassion makes a lot more sense: Do we not read emotions like words? We try and read people’s feelings, study them and, if we can, understand them.

The same skills we use during language learning such as pattern identification, using context clues and being perceptive to new information are key to developing emotional comprehension and, therefore, empathy.

Apart from my own personal opinion on this, research also points to the conclusion that multilingualism encourages emotional intelligence and empathy.

An article by Muzi Chen, Yuqi Fang (Chen & Fang, 2022) discusses findings from a variety of social studies comparing bilingual and monolingual children, the general conclusions being that children who spoke more than 1 language were more likely to be able to identify, understand and interpret irony in communication, be better at understanding the meaning of more complex sentences, and be more prone to open-minded thinking.

From these findings, one can see how the heightened comprehension skills of multilingual speakers means they can better read the emotional states of others and then identify themselves with these emotions – the perfect combination to produce compassionate, understanding human begins who are tuned into understanding the needs of both themselves and others.

Another way in which multilingualism could help create a more compassionate world is the cultural education it brings alongside it. Language learning unlocks endless opportunities to learn about how different cultures deal with fundamental experiences of human life such as death, love, happiness, and grief. In the same way that cultures deal with these events differently, so do individual people.

This intercultural awareness can be translated as understanding that different people will react and feel unique emotions in every situation, making it more possible to identify and feel empathy for others’ emotions – even if they are not the same as our own.

This year I lived in Portugal as part of my year abroad, and some of my happiest memories of the entire 10 months are being sat around a table outside with people from all over the world, laughing at the weird and wonderful ways languages work.

These congregations at the picnic tables were the perfect melting-pot environment for all these cultures and languages. As a conversation starter, I often asked people for unique words from their native languages for Private Joke (shameless plug, go check out the boardgame!).

What started as laughing at literal translations of words from their mother- tongue into English (one of my favourites was learning the German for chickpea is ‘giggle-bean’) and sharing weird idiomatic phrases eventually turned into compassionate interpersonal conversations on how everyone was dealing with homesickness, coping with university workloads, heartbreak, life in a new environment – and it was honestly one of the moments in which I felt most connected as a human to other humans the entire year.

Imagine a world in which populations of people have a greater scope for understanding one another than ever. Where people are able to see further than the literal words that a person is saying in order to understand what they truly mean. This is yet ANOTHER gift multilingualism could provide the world with.

About The Author: Sofía is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and is currently on her year abroad in Portugal. She is undertaking a BA in Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Manchester and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Articles cited

Chen, M., & Fang, Y. (2022). The Relationship between Bilingual and Empathy. Advances in

Social Science, Education and Humanities Research.

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