Tracing my life in languages

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My complex relationship with languages began a little under two decades ago, when my family moved to Hungary, as my father was stationed there to conduct diplomacy and it was expected of me to familiarise myself with two foreign languages. English I picked up rather quickly, as I had a natural inclination towards the language – my mother claims I picked it up in under three months. Before I knew it, I was no longer watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel in my mother tongue and English became the main language in almost every aspect of my life, and it was the one I felt most artistically and academically inclined to use.

It was expected of me to familiarise myself with two foreign languages

The other language I was expected to learn was Hungarian, and it proved to be a challenge. The complexity of its grammar, the lack of any common roots with Bulgarian and the fact that it wasn’t required in any aspect of my life made it entirely impossible for me to master the language past a few select words. My mother tried to compensate this by hiring a German tutor, however, as it turned out, I had no natural inclination towards German either, and learning it became a tedious chore rather than a hobby.

At thirteen, my family moved back to Bulgaria and I was enrolled into a Bulgarian-Italian school. This was a pivotal moment in my life, as the cultural and linguistic shock I experienced affected my relationship with my mother tongue for years to come. After having utilised English every single day in almost every aspect of my life, adapting to Bulgarian proved to be a mentally and emotionally challenging journey.

I struggled with school and social relationships, feeling like a failure and an outcast for my inability to adapt. I was put off academics entirely until I decided to give Italian a fair chance. I engaged in class and quickly realised I had a natural inclination towards the language and my confidence in myself was restored.  Since my graduation I have not actively used Italian, however, my mind registers the faith I had in myself and my abilities whilst studying it, and every time I use my Italian, the sentences – albeit often grammatically incorrect – flow naturally out of my mouth. This is in stark contrast to my experience with Hungarian and German, where every time I’m asked by friends or family to demonstrate my knowledge, my hands get clammy and I experience mild panic.

The cultural and linguistic shock I experienced affected my relationship with my mother tongue for years to come

Before arriving in Durham, I was worried that I would be met with a linguistic shock once again and that my social and academic struggles would reoccur, as I had not actively used English in over four years. My fears, however, proved to be unfounded – the language came naturally. My linguistic journey so far has been a difficult and confusing one, but it has taught me one valuable lesson: languages can open or close doors, and how one reacts to different situations depends entirely on the language they are using and the level of comfort and ease that comes with that. It all comes down to confidence – even if it’s your native tongue, if you are not in agreement with the language itself, you will naturally be more reserved and reluctant to speak it.

Image by Gordon Johnson via Pixabay

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