If you grew up in a household that spoke two languages simultaneously, you’ll definitely agree with me when I say it can be one hell of a ride.
Well, I did, and my two languages were Polish and English.
It didn’t stop there though. While I was switching between two languages, I was also switching between two countries.
I was born in Rzeszów, Poland and just 4 years later, my family decided to pack up all of their belongings and move all the way across the ocean to New York City, and that’s where I spent the next 9 years of my life.
As a 4 year old kid, your native language is just beginning to truly develop, so while Polish sounded common to me and I understood and spoke it, English became my main, dominating language. I spoke it all day at school, with all of my friends, my brother, my cousins. The only time I spoke Polish was when I was talking with my parents, or well, when I was attending something called Polish School. It was like regular school, expect it was only once a week, every Saturday (a 6-day school week, yay…). They didn’t really teach us much, the only thing I remember from that school is learning what a noun or a verb is every week for a year.
Then, when I was 13, we moved back to Poland and I had to go to REAL Polish School. I had a thick American accent, I could barely put a sentence together in Polish and here I was getting thrown into literature, biology, physics, etc. Half the time, I didn’t understand what my teachers were saying to me. There were so many new, sophisticated words I had never heard before. I got bullied a lot and let’s be honest, kids in middle school can be brutal, they didn’t let it go. I turned it into motivation fuel and grew thanks to it but let’s just say my first year living here wasn’t too great. I didn’t want my language defficiency to define me, so I decided I wouldn’t let it. The next few years I spent a lot of time perfecting my vocabulary, pronounciation and grammar. Unfortunately, this was the hard part, but 3 years later, I ended Middle School with honors and 3 years after that, I got the highest grade in High School from the Polish Matura (equivalent to SAT’s). I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come with something I once got called out for time and time again by my peers.
When I finished High School, my parents decided they were going to move back to New York for a bit, while I decided to stay in Poland for college. I packed up all of my things and moved myself to a completely different city, Kraków. After studying there for a year, I decided I’d give New York a try again. I was still finding my place on this earth and trying to figure out what it is I want to do in my life, but I did this for so many other reasons. Mainly because ever since we moved back to Poland when I was a teen, I had been dreaming of going to New York as an adult, to experience it „the real, brutal way”. I figured, if I don’t do it now, I might never have the opportunity to again, because later I’ll have a job, a family and responsibilites that won’t just let me pack myself up and move to the other side of the planet. So that’s just what I did. After a year in New York, I missed Poland. I came back. And that’s where I am right now, living and studying in college and not for one second did I regret taking this journey. I learned so much about myself, but that calls for a separate post (one I’ll definitely write someday).
It can get quite confusing when you’re constantly moving back and forth and absorbing and trying to adapt to two cultures at once but either way, you wouldn’t change it for anything else in the world.
If you are bilingual you can definitely relate with some of these problems, and you’ve definitely heard 90% of the following questions:
1. But what language do you think in? (WE DON’T KNOW, but it’ll make us think about it for the next 24 hours trying to figure it out).
2. Ooooh! Can you say something in [insert language here]?
3. Can you translate this for me? *sends 40 page essay* (please, don’t).
4. So which language is your NATIVE language? (um, kinda well, both).
Or you’ve had at least one of these issues come up in your daily life:
1. Acidentally speaking the wrong language. (I do this one way too often).
2. When you need a word in one language but you can only remember how to say it in the other. (I’m pretty sure I spend more time on Google Translate than most people).3. AUTOCORRECT. Autocorrect is your biggest nemesis. Don’t even get me started on this one.
4. Translating a joke from one language to the other and having it fail because the humor got lost in translation.
5. Watching a movie with subtitles and seeing SO. MANY. MISTAKES. (many scenes in films get translated uncorrectly and in effect – lose meaning).
Let’s stop there.
There were so many times I hated my story. I hated being from two completely different worlds because it caused me more problems than fixed them. I struggled with personality disorders that can be very common for bilinguals, for example when you switch personalities the second you switch languages. Because of that, I never felt fully “myself” and I became extremely self-concious and anxious to meet new people or speak publicly. Honestly, I could barely move a limb without properly planning it out in my head first (so you know, I could do it just right and not look weird or anything). I can’t exactly recall when it happened, but eventually I calmed down and I started behaving normally. I learned to see this as a gift and not a burden and now, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Thank you to my amazing family who made this a possibility in my life. I will be forever grateful and full of admiration for the courage and determination my parents had to move to a new country and start a new life for all of us.