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How I learned English. Part 2

If you are wondering what goes through the mind of a ‘bilingual’ person and how to get there, here’s part two of the long road to speaking two languages starting from a single language household. Part one was about the Dark Age of learning, not only for my style of choice: High School. You can find it here.

learning English abroad

Fast forward a few years and you will find me sitting at a freshmen table at my university in Durham, England, surrounded by real people speaking real English in a real context in real life. Let me tell you, it is not at all how I expected.

First of all, knowing that 'the cat is on the table' is utterly useless, and Marilyn Manson’s songs seem out of place. Plus, I don't have time to check words on my dictionary.

Note to self: do not carry a dictionary to a Formal.

What I am saying: "Hello, I'm Barbara, not Debra, Barbara. I am majoring in Aesthetic Philosophy. Aesthetic? Aesth... Classics! Hahaha yeahhh..."
What I am thinking: "Am I even speaking English? Is my accent that thick? Who is the peasant now huh? Oh gosh is that the right word? Please don't ask me to repeat. Please go talk to someone else. Oh no, they said something and I didn't hear. Just laugh and nod! Now look away. Pretend to be interested in the food. Should have stuck with Manson."

Also, no one told me how hard it is for your brain to process multiple conversations in a foreign language at the same time! Funny how it's such a natural thing when you are in your home country, to easily focus on the relevant conversation even in a crowded place. Yet that dining room feels so loud I can’t even hear the person next to me. Forget making a good first impression! And when I actually get the conversation, my timing for any sort of contribution is way off. To blame is the whole process of isolating the right conversation in the room, translating it in my head, thinking of the perfect comeback, translating it back to English, and finally saying it out loud. By that time dinner is over and I still have zero friends.

English seems to be easier when spoken with fellow Erasmus students, a.k.a. university exchange students from all over Europe. If you ask me, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus beats J.C. as the holy protector of all students. Can I get an Amen?

Foreigners may not correct my English mistakes, but surely timing is perfect among the whole group. That really gives me some extra confidence and fixes my issue with rooms full of people talking a language I wasn't born processing.

Also alcohol.

The truth is that nothing will make you question your life choices as much as finding yourself alone in a foreign country. It's like starting on a new job, but there's no clocking out at 5 pm. You will feel stuck, you will feel lost, you will miss your life back home, but, hey, it will be worth it!



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