Language is definitely a barrier. Especially when it consists of 2 different ones – but note, even talking the same tongue does not automatically imply understanding! Thus I am double beaten. At least double, it feels though sometimes worse.
Well, how it goes:
- baby talk in a mix of English and Swiss German, but as mother speaks English, English could be considered the first language.
- toddler talk is a clean mix of English and Swiss German.
- 3rd grade brings the official extension of High German (the language of Germany (vs. Switzerland): it is a complete different language, even has different grammar than Swiss German – but both languages stem from the Germannen). As we have a German nanny at home, not even this can scare me, I have incorporated High German into my pool of words already a couple of years earlier.
- 5th grade: by now I have perfectioned the fluent swap of English, Swiss German and German – if I had a word missing in either language for fast retrieval, then withhout missing a beat the other language’s counter-part would be inserted and the communication continued to flow. Mother and father understand perfectly. I don’t even notice anymore that I do it.
- roughly 7th grade enforces French on me. I suffer through several years of it (no way out of it) and by the end of my schooling I still can only barely order a cup of tea.
- around 8th grade I thankfully avoid Latin [me, a doctor, no way, thank you] which I now sometimes regret, because having become an ethymology lover, a LOT of words point back to there.
- in 9th grade, out of pure boredom – or stupidity – I take english, thinking I should learn “clean basics”. Don’t remember if I made it through 1 or 2 years of it, but I was so utterly bored, the books we read in class had not enough pages to take up all my doodling around – that is when I found out that my hands, arms, jeans, just about everything was a perfect underground for drawings done with a ballpoint – everything would wash out again, either after a shower, a bath or a round of detergent in the washing machine.
- at the age of 16 or 17, during a summer vacation with my Mom, I began reading in english. I knew the bare minimum from children books (yep, we had English children books, I grew up with Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and Poo, the bear) and so my reading knowledge was a bit from here and a bit from there and even a bit from school, but the real thing begun here: SYBIL – the book about the girl with the 16 personalities. That book was thick as hell, but I read it from start to finish. I almost ate it. And that is when I learned to stare at a word which I didn’t understand for a LONG time, so long until I suddenly could SEE the sound of those letters there on paper. From then on I was able to read english.
- I was roughly 21 when I moved to Paris. The first few months where pure terror, servers making fun of me in bistros when I tried ordering some tea. I learned french by watching A LOT of TV – kids programs, stupid shows, anything. ‘Til I heard enough of sound to associate it whith meaning. Then Paris became fun. And I became quite fluent with talking. That was the time when I discovered my hands and arms to help communicating.
- when I went to Italy to work, I realized soon that after knowing several languages, it becomes easier. Understanding that is. Even though I barely speak Italian, I still was able to follow Italian speaking movies or find my way around on my own in Milano etc., knowing French really helped
- after several years of living in Paris I moved back and quickly began loosing the fluent touch of French. Even though JiJi (short for Jeannine) only spoke french, I just didn’t speak ENOUGH French to keep the gears oiled. Nowadays I can follow a movie, probably even read a book, but have a horrible time trying to write a letter or to keep a conversation flowing. As earned as lost.
- but English again was different. I had stopped reading in English for several years but then again got intreagued by it. First I began reading tons of Fantasy books in English. Then I began studying Scientology in English (I “hated” the German translations, rather take 4 times as much time, but at least study it in its original language). That really helped me improve my vocabulary, study techniques require a lot of time spent in dictionaries. That was also when it slowly dawned on me that there exist 2 different languages, both called English, and that I had obviously been raised in British English while thinking I was speaking American English (because both my parents had American friends and interests). After several fights with a study buddy (who was a lawyer and had studied in the US) we finally realized that we could solve our differences if we compared definitions in British and US dictionaries – each time we had a dispute it would boil down to the fact that each language had a specific definition of a word which the “other English” didn’t use. Just think of words like gray/grey, trash/dirt-bin, trunk/booth, etc.
- with all this background, it shouldn’t pose the slightest problems, moving to the US, right? WRONG. The majority of oiled flow was German thinking to English translated word. Living here, with 24 hours a day the other way around, everything inflowing in English, everything broke down. Broke down to the point that I couldn’t think, express, talk, remember words in either language. It was like the dictionary was only a one flow one. And back was a locked door. But the more I was here, the more I begun thinking in English the more I needed the “back” to fish for missing words which I could then quickly translate into English and interject into my conversations. Painfull awakening. Slow process. Once again Scientology studies was my saving grace because for almost 2 years I studied about 40 hours a week the philosophy of it and once again I was spending A LOT of time in dictionaries. But that opened the door. On that I could build. And this is somewhat where I am now. Better but not yet good.
Don’t ask me why I wrote this all, I haven’t the slightest clue. And I still cringe each and every time when in a shop the cashier goes, “from where are you? I LOVE your accent!” – because, be honest, how could a Germanic accent mixed with 6 years Minnesoten dialect EVER sound NICE?! That is like Fargo couples with Arnold (though Arnold is from Austria, not Switzerland, but hey, I’m not mad if an American could not hear the fine but distinctive sound differences :tongue_laugh:).
Oh, now I remember: one of the reasons and hopes for this site was that my family back home could keep up a bit with me and my life – but reading this all in English is just not simple enough to be do-able for them (something that I can understand), and then again, my life now is HERE, and I think more and more in English, so I will not write the site in German, that just wouldn’t make sense to me. Thus it’s somewhat a pity and somewhat a loss of effort – until Babelfish or another translation software finally grasps grammar and truly translates pages into something useful instead of plain garbage.