Solidarity blog: Drifting

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I have been in Croatia for a month speaking English daily. It’s the first time I have to, and apparently some changes appear. Sometimes, when I write in French, to take notes or to speak to my friends, I forget the right writing of a word, how to conjugate certain verbs. When I speak on the phone to my family, words come to me in English and I have to search for the equivalent in French. I start to think and dream in English (even in Croatian sometimes even though I’m not able to understand it). However, even if my English is getting better, I’m sorely lacking in vocabulary, and almost can’t hold a conversation without searching for a word on Google Translate. I take time to make my sentences, what I say is not often correctly said. Even to write this article, I asked a friend to correct wording.

I can’t express myself has I would like to do because I don’t have tools for this. Time passes and I see my mother tongue moving away without appropriating the one I speak. It’s very disabling because people can’t have full access to me and my personality if I can’t express correctly my opinion/ ideas. But strangely, it makes me more open and curious: each discussion I have will probably enrich my vocabulary. I’m also more direct in my intents.

I was asking myself if the language I spoke has an influence on the way I am with others. In French, we have a familiar way to express ourselves to others (we call that “le tutoiement”) and a formal way (“le vouvoiement”), like in Spanish, Italian, Croatian and many other languages. So just by speaking you can make a difference between you and the person you are talking to. But not in English. I speak in the same way to my roommates and to the bus driver: I just say “you”. Everyone is on the same level, and it makes relations easier in my opinion. The formal way to speak puts an invisible barrier between people, and not having it anymore makes me more comfortable. I’m still not very sure about how it works on me, but I have the feeling that French-speaking Mathilde is not really the same as the English more or less well speaking Mathilde. So I thought about a friend of mine who is living abroad too, in Glasgow. We had a discussion this summer about how shy he was when speaking in French and how more comfortable he was speaking in English, whereas French was his mother tongue. So I called him to ask if he noticed any difference in his personality or behaviour by speaking English daily and living in a place surrounded by English speakers. And, no surprise, he feels much more comfortable and open than he would be in France speaking French. Maybe it’s just us, but honestly, I never thought that much about my own language and its structure by being abroad. Nonetheless, English and French share the same Latin roots: the same alphabet, many words in common, … I just started to learn a very few Croatian words, sentences and rules, but the alphabet is more or less the same, and for the rest seems to be approachable (but for this part we will see how good I’ll manage with it haha). But there are languages where numbers don’t exist, when there is no word for right or left, where the expression of the past or future cannot be made, where the conditional is non-existent, etc. So many things that we probably can’t imagine spending a day without using such linguistic tools. I didn’t have the occasion yet to cross the path of such people, but for sure, it would be very interesting to share about the construction of our language and how it could have an impact on our vision of things.

So let’s do some researches about this (:

See you next time!