Thursday, August 28, 2008

Language Matters

Isn’t English great? You can find people who speak it in all corners of the globe, it constantly adapts to actual usage habits, and it doesn’t have any of those bothersome masculine/feminine codes to decipher. Speaking English has been one of the best things about moving back to the states. At the same time, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss speaking French. French is great too. It’s steeped in history, it’s the language of love, and, let’s face it, it just sounds nice. As any globetrotter will tell you, losing one language, and finding another, is incredibly bittersweet.

Living in a foreign language is fun. You get to try out new words and phrases, you get to challenge yourself by accomplishing tasks while trying to remember to use the correct verb tense, and you get to marvel at your ability to make sounds with your mouth that don’t come naturally. Even better, you sometimes get to take on a whole new persona. Because language is more than just words and phrases - it’s actually a mindset - it has the power to change your personality. In English I’m outgoing, direct, and I like to crack jokes. In French I’m more reserved, subtle, and reflective. Leaving France was like leaving a part of myself.

By the same token, rediscovering the US was like rediscovering a part of myself. My English self. I love the way I can play with the language and the way I can listen to the radio or watch TV without having to concentrate too hard. I’m in awe over the ease with which the words come out of my mouth. Idioms and slang make me giddy. But you can never fully leave a language behind. I still find myself saying things in English that I translated literally from French, wanting to respond to questions with a quick “oui!” and searching for some of the words I haven’t used in a long time. In a way, the confusion is kind of reassuring. It’s a reminder that although the days (and weeks) of speaking nothing but French are behind me for now, my French self will always be there, ready to spring into action when I need her.

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