I have been living in Italy for two months now, and I hear every Western European language on a daily basis. Every week, I have conversations in Spanish, German and French, as well as daily chats in Italian and English. I have also learned a few words of Swedish, Turkish and Slovakian. The only language I don’t use – and refuse to use – is my native language. And it is beginning to show.
When I phone or text my friends in Wageningen, we speak in English at my request. And when I’m talking with fellow Dutch or Flemish Erasmus students, I also prefer to use a language everyone around us can understand. The only group for which I am willing to unearth my Dutch is for is the older generation: the monthly messages to my mother’s friends and a smiling picture for my aunts who are so very curious to know what it’s like in Bolzano. The remainder can make do with my stories in English.
The effort it took to search for particular words is confronting
Last week, I was back in the Netherlands for an early Sinterklaas and Christmas celebration with my family. The effort it took to search for particular words is confronting. Many of my sentences are a mix of English and Dutch, and even my thoughts were in three languages simultaneously. After half a bottle of wine (a Pinot Blanc from southern Tirol, naturally), I gave up on searching for words and continued the evening in English.
Considering how differently your personality appears in a different language than your own is fun. If your witty remark does not land in English, you might incur a little dent in your shield or spontaneity. Or, if you aren’t all that self-confident in your second language, you may appear shy or introverted. I don’t think I change at all if I am to believe those around me. Only when speaking French, I sound like I am from a posh Parisian neighbourhood, and when speaking Turkish, I sound like a Russian spy. Oh well, as long as my Italian sounds near-native, they can call me whatever they want.
Oscar Delissen is a fourth-year Food Technology student. He is studying in Bolzano, Italy, for the next six months.