Life in Paris

Funny and Frustrating Things About Being Bilingual

You start to forget words in your own language

One of the weirdest things that has happened to me over the past seven years is that I’ve started to forget simple words in my own native language . In general, the words I forget are words that even in England, I wouldn’t use very often. It’s almost as if my brain sacrifices words I don’t really need to make space for the new foreign vocabulary that I use on a daily basis. Most recently, I couldn’t remember the word “wrench” and was honestly embarrassed when a friend asked me for the translation from French to English. I could picture the wrench, describe the wrench, I knew what it was used for…but I could not for the life of me remember that a wrench was called a wrench. It was frustratingly funny and although it doesn’t happen often, it’s a subtle reminder that being bilingual is sometimes fatigant for the brain!

You lose track of which words are actually French

If you’ve ever heard the expression “to speak Franglais,” then you’ll probably understand this part of my bilingual dilemma. Franglais is when French people use a lot of English words when they speak, some of which have even been added to the French dictionary. Last year one of the most popular words added was, of course, “le selfie.” How could they not after Ellen’s famous selfie at the Oscars in 2014?

The problem with this is that French people use so many English words that are not officially in the dictionary that I find myself wondering whether I can or should use them. When I’m at work and someone asks me to “forwarder un mail” or “printer un rapport” I sometimes wonder if I’m going mad. Mais non, everyone is just speaking Franglais. 

You start thinking in two languages at once

If you live in France, you have most probably seen the famous internet meme “Ce moment when you start penser en deux langues at the same temps.” I remember it flooding my Facebook wall as my friends in France shared it over and over again. It sums up exactly how I feel as a bilingual person. Sometimes my brain doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going and bizarrely, the easiest thing is to think in the two languages at the same time. With my other half, we constantly speak half French, half English saying things like “Babe, tu veux manger des noodles?”or “Do you want to go out tonight? Je connais un super resto.” The funniest thing is when you’re in a public place and people listen to your conversation, they look at you as though you’re crazy. Not crazy, just bilingual.

Everyone says you have a weird accent

One of the downsides to being bilingual is that your accent can sometimes change. When I arrived in France I was British. Nowadays I’m American, Australian or French, but never British. People genuinely don’t seem to be able to guess where I’m from anymore which I have to admit, I still can’t get my head around. When people ask me where I’m from I almost want to say, “Isn’t it obvious? I’m British!” But apparently it’s not that obvious anymore. From speaking another language everyday, teaching American English and just generally being around so many different people from all over the world, my accent has quite clearly altered. Sometimes I feel sad about losing my accent but I have to remember that i’m bilingual now and my accent has adapted to it’s new surroundings. So, so what if I don’t sound British anymore? I now speak two languages and that is pretty damn cool. 


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