What is it really like to be bilingual?
Something that has always annoyed me is when people ask me, “What language do you think in.” because, to be honest, I never really think about it as thinking in a language. When I hear Polish, speak Polish or read a Polish sign, I automatically read it as Polish. But when I hear English or read English I would translate it in my head to Polish. But when I speak it and someone answers me in English, I hear that as English in my head. It sounds ridiculous, but it is only when I am conversing or writing in English, when I don’t think in Polish. You would think, after the number of years I have spent in Britain, I would speak it as at ease as I would Polish. But I always revert back to my mother tongue.
I have often been told that when I am angry, sad or frustrated, My Polish accent comes out very thickly and I occasionally drop a Polish word as a way of expressing that emotion as I find that British doesn’t have such expressive words. I also, always, curse in Polish when I hurt myself.
However my boyfriend used to comment that when I talk in my sleep, which was something I used to do until I was put on strong medication for my BPD, which knocks me out for the night, I would shout in English. However he said what I would shout is nonsense as though that was what I originally thought was the correct word for something else.
My boyfriend also just now, commented on the fact that I choose to eat Polish foods as my main meals, I usually would stick with pastry’s, doughy foods over fish and chips. Something else he has noticed is when I read out loud the label on jars of food etc. I read them in English but with a Polish accent, which I personally have never noticed.
People comments are one of the things that you never think about unless you are bilingual or of a different ethnicity from the rest of the people in your country. I spoke to lady in my office and although we are both Polish, we where speaking English as we both feel more comfortable at work, if we speak English. Although she was raised in Britain and has a strong British accent, where as I, although I have a British accent, still struggle with word that have V and W and mispronounce a few words on occasion. As we where speaking a fellow worker came over and said “Why don’t you just speak Polish if that is where you both are from?” It wasn’t so much her words that offended us but more the way she said it, as though we had no right to speak English.
Another example was when I was helping tourists with directions, they where Polish and couldn’t understand English, I had heard them talking earlier and had asked if I could give them help, while I was given instructions for their journey, I heard a little boy ask his mum “Is those people one of the ones who came over in the boats?” and his mum, thinking I couldn’t understand English said “No, they probably came through on the Lorries.”
It’s moments like these where you wish you weren’t bilingual so you don’t have to hear the comments about my people and land.]
I am proud to be Polish but I am also proud to be counted as a British Citizen. I am not just my race, but I am also the people who have fought to get somewhere safe.
My boyfriend just said this proverb is accurate, I hope you agree.
“Jak cię widzą, tak cię piszą.”