What goes through the mind of a person who is bilingual

Understanding two languages since a toddler and later learning to speak both of them has its pros and cons…


Understanding two languages since a toddler and later learning to speak both of them has its pros and cons. For example, I am half American (even though America is full of mostly Europeans and then the rest of the world they speak English) and half Czech.

I was born in a little town called Ithaca in New York State. I lived there till I was about 6 years old, so for that period of time I spoke mostly English, but if the Czech side of the family came over, I’d speak Czech (which at that time wasn’t as good as my English).

When I was 6 years old, my parents got divorced and since my mom has custody of my sisters and I, so has the Czech language. She wanted to move closer to her family so we moved to the Czech Republic where I live now. We moved to a little village not too far from Prague. Since my Czech wasn’t completely fluent yet, my mom decided to put me into a Montessori class where it would be easier for me to learn more Czech without any pressure. My first day was a bit hard for me. I was surrounded by unknown people who speak a language that I haven’t completely perfected yet, so I was really intimidated by them.

The day in Montessori starts by sitting in a circle and saying hi to everyone by stroking the person who is on your right side’s cheek and saying “I like you.” Now that’s where my first embarrassment happened. In Czech, you have to say things based of your gender in certain words. So, a feminine way of saying “I like you” is “Mám tě ráda,” while a masculine way of saying it is “Mám tě rád. Since I only had minute knowledge of the language, I ended up saying, “Mám tě rád,” which is the masculine way. So, the whole class started laughing. I didn’t mind it but I felt a bit judged.

It was hard for me to form words into Czech at the beginning because I was thinking in English which meant that I had to translate everything I said before I said it.

Once I mastered talking in Czech, I had another problem: how to convert the Montessori system into the general school system I was familiar with. That meant more unknown people and more pressure onto my Czech. Czech grammar has so many rules and it was quite hard, even Czech people have trouble with it. I eventually understood the rules and adjusted to the language.

Today I’ve got the opposite problem.

I have lived in a Czech speaking country since I was 6 years old. I am 19 now. We speak English at home because my mom didn’t want us to forget English, but sometimes we throw a Czech word in the middle of an English sentence. That happens automatically when we can’t think of the word in English at that moment.

My mind gets fumbled into two languages and sometimes I just talk in both languages at once.

When my dad calls to talk, I often get stuck on words because I can’t think of them in English, so I have to find another way of forming the sentence together. I often feel disappointed with not being fluent in both languages, but I have accepted that this is my way of life. When I talk to my friends in Czech, I get stuck thinking about how to say them in Czech. It’s a constant cycle that annoys me at times and I prefer just not to talk.

It’s as if I’m stuck in translation during the most important moments I needed to communicate.

On the plus side, I do catch onto new languages quicker then most people. I used to study German and I was good at it. Since I have stopped studying, it is harder for me to form lot of sentences but I remember how to say a few words. When I listen to another language, I catch onto what they are saying pretty quick. If I am somewhere on vacation and I listen to what the waiters say or what people in the grocery store say, then, I can form a sentence in a language that I’ve never learned and order food or ask a similar question.

It has become easier for me to even imitate lot of different accents, and by that, I mean all the different types including British accents, Australian accents, German accent , Austrian accent (yes both countries speak German but they say certain words differently and in a different accent), Italian accent, Spanish accent, etc.

I can’t imagine what goes through the mind of linguists since they know more than one language. They most likely have a more fumbled mind trying to switch from language to language.

I will always be judged by certain types of people, but I’ll also be loved by others and love matters more than being judged. I know that many people get hurt, get laughed at, or even treated as an outsider just because they speak at least two different languages. But, there are people who would be grateful to speak two languages fluently and are more understanding than others.

It is a crazy and fumbled road in my mind but it makes me, me.

Written by Allegra d'Amore. Edited by Number 8.


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