I decided to write some more personal post about life abroad. Last week, I wrote about what’s it is like to live abroad after I realized that I have lived abroad four out of the last five years, and hence most know a bit about it. Today, I want to talk a bit about how it is to manage three languages daily – and the fact that the one, I use the most isn’t my mother tongue!
I would love to hear your stories about using different languages (or maybe your considerations about having to use it when moving abroad), so please feel free to share your story or doubts in the comments below!
Spanish, English, and Danish
I speak Spanish every single day. From I wake up in the morning until I go to bed in the evening. Everything I do from going shopping that the little Chinese supermarket around the corner, to paying bills, making phone calls or going to the gym is done in Spanish – or Castellaño as the Argentines call their form of speaking Spanish.
On top of that, all the classes of my master program classes are in castellaño. It does result in some frustrated me-wanting-to-say-something-that-I-can’t situations when I don’t feel I have the right words.
I write and read in English every day, not only here on the blog but in general. I read and take notes in English. I don’t know why. Maybe it is a habit I got from studying an international all-in-English undergraduate program. Or maybe because it is more convenient for an idea to the blog. Or maybe it is just something that became a habit over time.
Bing, bing! Several times a day, I will receive messages and snap-chats from family and friends in Denmark. Keeping contact with them result in mixing up my daily communication with a good amount of Danish.
It is strange to think that the language which I use the less is my mother tongue. There are words in Spanish, which I’m not even sure how to translate correctly to Danish. There are concepts which have been explained to me in Spanish, and which I have come to remember in Spanish. When trying to explain it in Danish, I either don’t find to words or feel that they are inappropriate.
This happened already when I started working (and later on studying) in English. Don’t ask me to explain business concepts in Danish because most of them, I will have no clue what is.
Language when going home
When I go back to Denmark, the sound coming out of my mouth feel strange and unfamiliar… Oh, wait! It is just the sound of me speaking Danish again. I find myself stumbling over the most common formal phrases. The first phrases coming into my head are "buenos días", "muchas gracias" and "hasta luego", and not "goddag", "mange tak", "farvel", and “hej, hej”.
One time, in the border control in Copenhagen Air, I ended up with a mix of “muchas gracias, hasta luego” and “mange tak, hej, hej” (e.g. thank you so much, bye, bye). The woman’s facial expression said everything. It must have sounded something like “muchas grak, hasta hej, hej”.
Embarrassed over my completely un-understandable Danish, I just smiled at her, took my passport and ran to get my luggage. The standard Spanish politeness phrase had simply taken over.
The longer, I say away from Denmark, the more Spanish (sorry, sorry, Argentina; castellaño) takes over in my head, and becomes the language in which I think in. And the longer it takes for me to re-adjust to Danish, and the more unfamiliar and strange the first days in Danish become.
It might sound like a snobby thing saying that your own language feels strange in your mount and that you start to mix your own language with a foreign language. It might sound like somebody forcing an internationalized lifestyle and being cool. Nevertheless, this is just how my head acts on living in three languages daily.
To manage three languages a day can be challenging. It can be frustrating. It can be very confusing. There are days where I just feel that none of them work for me. But most days, it is a blessed experience.
Argentina is a lovely country to be a foreigner in. Argentines are very enthusiastic about foreigners whom actually make a great effort in speaking their language, which gives the energy to continuously improving.