Ever since I moved to Switzerland my life has been like a constant language immersion 24/7. Or battlefield, that would probably describe it better…? The truth is, I couldn’t speak a word of German when we moved. Pretty soon I realized that English doesn’t help much around here, since older people really don’t speak it at all and many of the younger ones are a bit shy to speak English. Naturally, there are also exceptions. But in order to live here on a permanent basis, better learn the language and fast. What makes it more complicated is that Swiss people have their very own language, Swiss German, and everybody has their own version about how it is written. Complicated? Eh… just wait, it gets better. That’s why Swiss people use the so called High German as a written language. So basically instead of learning one language you really have to learn two. From which the other one cannot be written. Oh, and not to mention that Switzerland has actually four official languages. No wonder the locals don’t care that much about English, they have enough to learn without it… ;)
It has been interesting to see how our origins shape the way our brains work. For my husband, who grew up in a bilingual city and also in a family with more than one languages, it is totally normal to operate with more than one language on a daily basis. He switches the language in the middle of the sentence, if needed. Faster than you can say ”cat”. It seems like his brain is shaped somehow different compared to mine. Yes, he is a man, naturally. Their brain are shaped differently… odd creatures. But now I don’t mean that. I grew up in a family with just one language. Not to mention that the whole part of Finland where I grew up had only one language. So it seems, I am missing some fuse from my brain. I never manage to switch from one language to another smoothly. No. Instead, I am stuttering, pronouncing poorly, desperately looking for words. Looking like a real idiot! Sometimes I experience a total blackout and forget everything I’ve ever learned. And naturally, this always happens somewhere where it really doesn’t need to happen. Like when you have a doctor’s appointment. Or maybe I should try I job interview? Blackout guaranteed.
All these ”symptoms” become very frustrating when you have to operate with four languages every day. So I speak Finnish with my kids, Swiss German or German with their friends, English with some of my friends and German with others. Especially frustrating it gets when you have all language groups under your roof at the same time. Let’s say, for a birthday party for example. You have to remember which language you are supposed to speak with each person, and in the end you end up speaking Finnish to some poor kid who doesn’t understand a word, and Swiss German to your own kids… just to hear them say that you sound ridiculous! And then you experience a total blackout and wave all of them goodbye in Finnish. How splendid!
Some experts say that you are doing well with learning a new language when you actually start thinking or dreaming with this language. So far it didn’t happen. But no matter how good you learn some other language, your origins come out sooner or later. You know, like if somebody wakes you up in the middle of very deep sleep. Once I had to wake my husband up in the middle of the nigh, and he was talking Swiss German to me! I am sorry darling, but could you please change the language? I don’t understand a word, I remember saying. And this one and only time I could tell that he was confused and it really took him a moment to switch the language… Ha! So it happens to him, too!
Anyway, language is connected with culture, habits etc. etc. If you don’t understand the language, you can’t really understand the people either. So I intend to learn. Whether it takes me a year or hundred years… This is my every day battle. Some days are better, some days are just plain horrific. Just when you think you got this and you are flying the plane… crash! And the whole plane is smashed to pieces… But, I intend to win! I’ll let you know when it happens… :)