Inspired by an hilarious post from MadameZou, I have been thinking on what it means to me to be able to express myself in more than one human language. It is obviously a plus when I am in a big city or at a conference and I can talk to people in a language they feel more comfortable with. I did this juggling more than once and I am quite proud of that, at a technical level.
On a deeper level, there are people with whom I can use two or more languages, so we usually end up using one language for a set of topics and the other(s) for other sets. It happened with a Canadian friend of mine, with whom I speak French when we discuss private stuff, and English for work-related topics and when others are around. I absolutely melt when we switch to French in public for a couple sentences. It is a mark of closeness that is so innocent, yet so profound.
Now that becomes interesting. That lead me to think if I was equally fluent in each language in each topic, and I ended up realising that I am not – even when I am alone, when I write, when I dream, each language allows me a different range of expression, like clothes can allow a different range of motion. Some are closer to me and I feel I can move naturally, others are like a heavy coat or trousers quite too big, shoes that don’t fit my feet. I feel like I am made of four personalities who overlap only partially. English almost perfectly fits my French and Italian, while my German is so hesitant and inaccurate that it is almost a bad copy of myself. I almost fear learning a new language because I would feel so unbearably blocked in my expression.
If I count music and movement among the languages I know, then there are even more interesting observations. I speak music like someone who knew it well at some point, then didn’t practice for a long time. A bit like a old dog which knew a lot of tricks, and when asked, tries with some difficulty to find the movements again, but even when he fails you can notice how skilled he was. With movement it is an open path, I am on the way, hesitantly, but progressing.
Edit and drawing streak preview: my languages as horses – red is Italian, green is English, light blue is French, black is German. The first three are more similar, German is a growing foal.