On the passenger seat of a moving car, I stared out of the window. I see cars passing, right in front of my eyes and I think to myself how lucky I’m. I think that in my native language. I turn around and tell my husband how I’m feeling, in his native language. I’m impressed on how fast my brain switch from Brazilian Portuguese, my native language, to his American english.
Our biggest difference brought us together. For him, english is a given, for me, years and years of studying, learning, mimicking the sounds, making phrases like a two year old.
I was not raised bilingual.
I forced myself into learning and that only started at the age of 16.
One of my memories was the first week of English classes, when the teacher would make us simple questions, and I was thrilled to answer it. I remember the first level book, with lessons like “do, did, don’t and didn’t”. Something that sounds so simple for a native speaker, for us took an entire month of putting words together, trying to make sense.
I had some vocabulary, because I used to translate the song’s lyrics with a dictionary. A few different times when the teen magazines had the translation of the song, I used to study the words.
Being bilingual requires a lot of brain power.
Being bilingual requires a lot of brain power, as I don’t translate words or phrases. I switch, like a light switch. On and off. I think in both languages, but not at the same time. And I cant understand it at the same time either. Its either one or another.
For example: if I’m watching a Brazilian show on tv and my husband asks me something in English, I can only understand one at a time. I stop for a millisecond and choose which one I will focus on.
When he asks me to do a simultaneous translation of the novella I’m watching, it feels like my brain is scratching a rock agains wood to make fire.
Like the Titanic engine, right before it hits the Iceberg.
The brain of a bilingual works like the Titanic engine, right before it hits the iceberg. Everyday. I remember the first time I was in the States, in 2006, during a summer work abroad program.I was on a J1 visa, and how fantastic it was being immersed in another language was and also very confusing.
At that time, the placement for the work abroad program was in North Carolina, and the southern accent clearly didn’t help. The first few days I was getting by as I could.
There were plenty of times, at Mc’Donalds when the attended asked me “for here or to go?” and all I could catch on was “to go”. So many times I ended up with my food in a paper to go bag, while my coworkers had their food spread on a tray.
“Everything you own, in a box to the left”
It also happened with songs. I remember being on the resort’s van, going to Asheville, for a night out with my coworkers, and listening to Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”, I was emotional because I thought the song was so beautiful and romantic, when in fact she was kicking the guy out of the house, in the nicest melody.
It’s not easy on us, and there is plenty of people out there, who can’t say another damn word, in a different language, that will pretend to not understand you.
Or try to make you look like an idiot for even trying. I’ve been there way too many times. Where people laughed at me because I was trying to say something, and it come out as I though in my brain.
Or use the same words, that mean something different, in the other language. I used to say “we live at a condominium” because in Portuguese Condominium means “apartment complex”. Here its apartment complex. Or USB driver, that in portugues it’s called a “pen drive”.
Americans makes no effort to at least minimize the struggle for someone speaking in a second language. You either learn how to talk like them, or you will be ostracized. Thanks Georgia. Not too long ago, I decided not to fit in on this terms.
Let me tell you : Don’t you ever be embarrassed by your accent. This is your identity, is your motherland, your roots. Specially, if you started learning later in life, like me.
Don’t worry about how you are going to sound, just put the words together and be confident, it will come naturally to you after a time. Watch TV, read books, listen to music.
Congratulation on being Bilingual!
My words for you are always congratulations for making an effort of being bilingual. There are people that appreciate you trying to speak their language, while going through the hard burdens of understanding how everything else works. That’s the reason I have this blog, to encourage other like me, who feels like on outcast in this country, to shine through the cracks. We need each others support.
We belong here. Not matter what anyone else yells at us, because we don’t look like them ,or don’t sound like them.
Be brave, Be bold!