Jelle’s been speaking a lot of Italian lately, which is weirder on me than it is on him. There he is, muttering and stuttering with the goofiest ‘I’m gonna get my point across one way or another’ look, gesticulating when in difficulty although i’m right there and could translate for him.
I remember learning English and Tagalog, how putting pressure on myself to learn how to sound like a proper citizen, and not a parrot version, meant i preferred reading and listening and thinking in a language that was not my mothertongue. Up to now, i cannot read Italian-translated novels, watch movies that are not in the language they were shot in, and my thoughts are a 3-way conversation. Wonder what would happen if i were to learn a fourth language?
Wait, let’s ask Jelle, who’s on his fourth language as it is:
F: Do you think in English, Dutch, French or what?
J: It depends on what language i’m using the most.
F: What language are your dreams in?
J: I don’t dream.
F: What language do you like the most?
F: Whaaaaaaaat? Whhhhhhy?
J: Because that’s what i’m most comfortable with?
F: I cannot believe you.
After all, Jelle’s mothertongue is a Germanic language; French, being a Romance language, must have been tough to learn, appreciate. It’s different for an Indo-European language native to learn how to speak a language in the same family, because the rules are pretty much the same. Imagine, however, having to relearn basic grammar, in a foreign language. Throw in lessons in phonetics, the building of a new vocabulary, even sentence construction. End result? New language – corrupted mothertongue. After all, language is an ongoing project, a work that’s never finished but consistently added to. Sadly, my Italian grammar is as good as any 11 year old’s 😦 It’s enough, but i wouldn’t be sounding as eloquent were this blog in Italian, that’s for sure!
However, as noted by Yale linguist Stephen Anderson, “In most of the world multilingualism is the normal condition of people.”.