(Not quite the tower of babel, but it will do)
So let’s talk about language, or rather living with a foreign language and how it affects me.
Having lived in Scotland for 12 years now, I have been speaking English as my main language for as many years, and often find that I don’t really consider it a second language anymore, even though it is. (In fact it’s technically my third language)
A lot of people get very surprised when they find out that English isn’t my first language, and exclaim that it is impossible to tell because I have no accent. Which is maybe true if you listen to it superficially, however if you really pay attention, there will probably be some things that give me away, especially when I use typically Swedish or Norwegian terms that I just translate directly into English, rather than finding the English equivalent to the word.
For example the notion of “toastbread” is pretty much accepted at home now, and Pete knows exactly what I mean when I say we need to buy some (It is just bread that you toast in case you didn’t figure it out). Pete also know what I mean when I say that the soft-drink is now “dead” (flat) or if I ask him to bring the oven through (that is the portable heater)
I grew up in Norway but within a Swedish family so ever since I was born I have spoken and switched between the two languages. I don’t actually remember speaking just the one, although I must have started speaking Swedish first as that is the language we used at home. Switching between the two I don’t find hard at all, and we were lucky I guess in where we lived being so close to the border that everyone pretty much understood what we said, so there was never any issues with me and my sister speaking Swedish to each other even though we were in a big group of friends. I don’t think my cousins had quite the same luxury as they grew up on the opposite end of Norway and none of their friends understood Swedish. The two languages are very similar, however obviously they are still different enough that some people struggle to understand the other. If you add the wonders of regional dialects in there, it can make it pretty impossible for some people to understand the other language if they are not used to hearing it.
But anyway, my theory is that because I grew up switching between the two languages, I found it easier to adapt to speaking English and picking up on the accent. I don’t have any sort of evidence to back this up whatsoever, but it’s the best explanation I can think of. When we started learning English in school, it quickly became my favourite subject and I was rather good at it. Of course in Norway we are also exposed to English speaking TV-series and movies that aren’t dubbed so we get a feel for how it should sound that way.
When I moved to Scotland, I probably sounded a lot more American than I do now, for that reason, and as I started hanging out with the locals (or Pete rather, we practically moved in together after 3 months) I did start to pick up on the local dialect. I definitely picked up on the use of “aye” quite quickly, and also “shite” Yeah.. that will be Pete’s influence.
Later on I have gotten more used to the local dialect – doric. If you have seen Brave it is the dialect that the comic relief character who speaks really weird and nobody understands is talking. I definitely knew I had lived here long enough when I sat in the cinema and understood every single word he said and knowing I wasn’t really meant to! Good Een!
So you would think that everything is great and that there are no issues for me getting on with life with a second language. And I guess that’s true to a certain extent. In fact it’s almost going in the opposite direction now, I find that when I get in situations with work where I have to speak or write Norwegian I find it quite tricky because I have no experience of a professional Norwegian work jargon, and probably sound really informal when writing emails or making work calls to Norway.
I have also started to notice when speaking to my friends back home that whilst they sound a lot more grown up in their language, my Norwegian seems a bit stuck in the language that 19 year old me spoke when I left, including local slang words and all. – I basically sound like an adult trying to be down with the kids and speaking cool, who is failing miserably because no one speaks like that anymore! I have discussed this a bit with an older friend over here, who has told me that this is actually quite common in ex-pats and there is a word for it, but I can’t remember it just now.
At the same time, I do struggle with English sometimes, and I don’t think I have actually realised that I am struggling with it until quite recently. It isn’t really that tangible, and not really a big issue, but I do find it hard sometimes to word myself properly when put into situations where I am expected to provide an answer or explain how I mean on the spot.
This is mostly in situations where I am trying to explain a problem or an issue to a boss or someone else with some sort of authority, and I feel like I just end up babbling and not managing to get my point across the way I would like it too. – It basically sounds good in my head, but doesn’t translate properly into what I am saying. Does that make sense? Whether this is a language issue or just me being nervous I am not so sure about, however speaking to some other ex-pats at work who have the same problems (and are actually managers) I am starting to think that the fact that it’s not my native language might have a bigger impact than I originally thought. – This is very frustrating!
In Norway there is a saying that we have – Men, men, det er ikke bare, bare! which translates into “but, but, it’s not only only…” clear as mud right? Essentially it means something like “Oh well, it’s not always easy” and so I think this describes quite well how I feel about speaking English and how some people (myself included) take it for granted that this is something that comes naturally to me.
Are you living in a place where you have to speak a different language than your native one? How do you feel about it? Do you recognise anything of the above or is it just me? I’d love to hear your thoughts!