Language barriers

I think that living in a new culture is hard for nearly everyone who tries it, and it’s an extra challenge when the local language is different from yours . . . even worse if it’s entirely new to you. Even now, nearly 2 years in to our adventure here, I struggle with the language. I haven’t practiced enough, and English is fairly commonly spoken here, so I get away with it.

I resist learning German. Much more than I ought to. Part of that is because I find it challenging (although easier and more intuitive than other languages). But mostly, I stick to English because I love it. I love English — not because it’s English, but because I’m such a fanatic for knowing it well. I express myself in English, so my identity is wrapped up in the words I use to define and describe myself. I love to write, and I only know how to write in English. Whatever I need or want to use words for — to be friendly, kind, helpful, clever, interesting, disinterested, warm or distant — I know which to choose and how to use them. Without English, I have no tools. I have no way to place myself into the world, except by just being (and that’s hard, awkward and uncomfortable).

The English language is my medium, like paint or musical composition might be for someone else. I use it to give myself context in social interactions, the way other people use their clothes, hair and makeup. I weigh and evaluate words to feel out the social landscape the way a more savvy person might use body language or social cues. It is how I make sense of my life and express my inner self to the world. Every day, I have to use another medium, one in which I’m a novice. It’s frustrating. It’s isolating. I can’t express ME in German.

So, when I have the option, I use English. It’s a bad habit that I have so much trouble getting over. Most importantly because, in using English, I put those I interact with in the same awkward position that I’m trying to avoid — they can’t really express themselves, either.

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