Thursday, July 24, 2014

Three levels of madness

The strangest thing has been happening to me lately—I'll be talking, and suddenly the word that I want to say next is nowhere to be found. English is my mother language, but I also speak passable Italian. And now I'm learning Swedish, so there was bound to be a pile-up at some point. Especially since I don't speak Italian like it's my native tongue.

My mind works like this: English is your default way of speaking. Everything else is "foreign". That's why even though Italian and Swedish sound nothing alike, when I open my mouth to ask my Swedish teacher a question, somehow it comes out Italian. My brain knows I can't ask a question in English, so it just reverts to the "other" language, which until now has only ever been Italian.

Then, especially when I'm speaking with R, who shares my three languages (and then some), everything gets more pronounced. On the bus home last week we were discussing (in Italian) the U.S.'s response to the Malaysian Airlines plane being shot down compared to its response to the Israel-Gaza situation when I started sputtering because I couldn't think of the word "guerra". Worse, I couldn't even think of what it was in English ("war")! But, somehow the word "krig" ("war" in Swedish) floated to the forefront of my mind and spilled out. At which point R looked at me like I was crazy and I imagined I actually was!

I don't know what would be the case now if I hadn't dropped Spanish when I met R. I had studied it all through middle school, high school and the first year of university, but since Spanish and Italian are so close, and neither are my mother tongues, I couldn't retain both and Spanish fell away.

Imagine the gibberish I'd be spouting if I were trying to maintain four languages...

One year ago: Stirred, not shaken

9 comments :

  1. haha i cant imagine a little bit..im bilingual as well but i feel like im starting to think in English more often than in Nepali.

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    Replies
    1. Lucky you to have them both so separate and distinct! I hope I get to your level someday soon (with at least one of the "others")! :)

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  2. I was worried too that I was losing my English living in Sweden. And then I remembered that I was never actually good at my native language either so there's nothing really lost. You likely have more to lose....!

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  3. Lucky you to have them both so separate and distinct! I hope I get to
    your level someday soon (with at least one of the "others")! :)

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XOXO,
J.