Notes on Being Bilingual

1. In Argentina, we have this shyness about speaking English. If we hear someone pronouncing a word in English correctly, we sort of scoff at them. “Who do you think you are,” we think to ourselves, even if we’re bilingual. I believe this is a geographical thing. In Mexico, for example, people have no problem pronouncing English correctly, and I think it’s because Mexico is closer to English-speaking countries–the US, of course. We’re too far away from America, which gives us a certain reticence that people from Veracruz, for example, most likely do not feel. Not to mention that Argentina went to war with England only 30 years ago. Umberto Eco once remarked how in France you can still feel echoes of the French Revolution. I guess our wounds are still too fresh.

2. I find it endearing when I run into an Argentinian blogger who writes in English, and I can feel the way they talk in their heads because of little idiosyncracies in their English prose, of which I have many myself. When someone writes about “committing a mistake” instead of “making a mistake”, because commit is the closest word to cometer—I can feel the Spanish mind at work there.

3. English was always close to me, but it was not until 2010 (I was born in 1988) that I really submerged myself in it, when I read Moby-Dick (see what I did there? submerged? Moby-Dick? Yes.) Then came The Sound and the Fury. Those two tremendous novels, both Melville and Faulkner, shook me to such a degree that I began to see English in a new light. I felt, rather, that I was looking at it for the first time. All those loose ends of English I’d experienced before suddenly became fixed and grew into great orbs of passion and eloquence. I fell in love with this newfound lan(d)guage.

4. At the same time that I found it, I also came back to it. And I got so deep into it that I began to abandon my mother language, Spanish. And Spanish, that great and efficient mechanism, started to feel dim. When I think of Spanish, I think of great clay pillars, ancient mud towers ardent in the middle of the desert. I turned to the green fields of Shakespeare, of Whitman, those lush sounds, unlike the sounds of Spanish that often sound as if carved in stone.

5. I felt, and still feel, like an exile. I still feel like a little child playing with a new toy when I write in English, always feeling a certain guilt–am I abandoning my roots? I think. I’m not even good at writing in English, and trying to write extensively in Spanish often ends up in failure. I’m vacilando between two worlds. In a way, I’m two people. Language affects thought, and I have no doubt in my mind that the person I am when I think in Spanish is very different than the dude who writes these posts, who wanders through emails and skype conversations. Essentially the same, but undoubtedly full of nuanced little discrepancies. Exiles to each other. I do not know which of us has written this page.

6.  “Whenever I spoke with my paternal grandmother, I would do it in a way that ended up being called “speaking English,” and when I spoke with my mother and her parents, I would do it in a way that ended up being called Spanish.” Jorge Luis Borges, Autobiografía

7. I studied translation at college briefly, a few years ago. I felt it was the most logical thing to do. But I quickly found out that, mysteriously enough, it was the exact opposite of what I could define as my “calling.” And funny enough, I find it impossible to read English-to-Spanish translations now.

8. Ay, cómo te amo, inglés.

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