Ever wondered what it’s like being bilingual? To know two (or more) languages so well that both are the same to you, and you sometimes forget that you are thinking in one and talking in another.
My tiny friend Little M’s latest post about being a bilingual tot got me thinking. I was not a bilingual baby myself, growing up in a rural Northern Norwegian town with a Norwegian speaking family, with little Norwegian friends. But I do remember the holidays in Sweden and watching DJ the Cat on Sky, clearly showing an interest in languages from an early age. This early taste of what lay outside the borders of my childhood bubble, is probably what eventually made me decide to move to Italy to live for a year after completing school, escaping my country in which I would mostly only get to speak a language which, quite frankly, in the bigger scheme of things is more or less useless. There is about 5million people living in my native country, add those in the Scandi parts of Europe that understand us, but perhaps don’t really speak it, and those in the wider world that have chosen to learn Norwegian. That would take the grand total to no more than 6 million, wouldn’t you agree? That’s less than the people who live in London!
On the pro list though comes the fact that by default almost I understand and speak both Swedish and Danish, and if I really make an effort sometimes am able to understand Icelandic and even Dutch (mostly in written form, and am by no means claiming to speak it!). Then add the German I studied at school, and the Italian I learned during my time in Perugia, and it’s starting to become quite complicated or fun – depending on the way you see it. To top it off, I consider English as my second mother tongue. I do make a very convincing Brit if I can say so myself.
So whilst I was never a bilingual toddler, I am very much a bilingual adult. And it is fun to be able to communicate in another language, to use additional letters when writing (æ, ø, å), and to try to teach your friends phrases and words. It can also be a bit frustrating, especially when you’re trying to explain something (could be a saying or a joke or anything really) that doesn’t really translate and is difficult to put into words for an ‘outsider’, a non-native Norwegian. Then again, the same happens to me from time to time. Sometimes, there is something about being a native Brit that me as the expat just don’t get. These are the times, according to my boyfriend, that you can tell that I didn’t grow up over here. For instance, the other week whilst watching The Prisoner on dvd, I asked what those bicycles with one small and one large wheel are called. “A penny-farthing” my boyfriend informed me with a big grin on his face. I had of course heard this name before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember it at that point.
To all my fellow bi-, tri- and multi-linguals out there. What’s your experiences?
And for anyone who might wonder. I honestly don’t know which language I think in.