WHEN YOU DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE YET
I’ve found that when I move abroad and am constantly surrounded by foreign languages, my brain sometimes panics and speaks in whatever foreign language feels the most familiar – even if it’s not what the people around me are speaking.
When I first moved to Hungary in the fall of 2015, this meant that I spoke a lot of random Spanish. As I got more comfortable there with the language (even if it was just a few phrases or words that I had down pat), I eventually began using Hungarian casually. Now that I’m in Greece, I randomly revert back to Hungarian and sometimes even still speak Spanish when it suits me.
It’s a weird phenomenon, what happens in your brain when you’re immersed in a language that you don’t understand. At times it can be frustrating and alienating when you know there’s a great conversation happening and you can’t understand it whatsoever. But there’s also a good deal of calm that this can bring – because you don’t understand what’s happening around you, it feels like a constant soothing white noise that you don’t have to tune into too often.
I’m starting to learn Greek during my time here in Katerini, but that doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable with the language just yet. I honestly never would have thought that the Hungarian language would feel soothing, and yet here we are, because it’s what I know. I used small phrases and words in Hungary on a daily basis; I could speak enough to make it through that day and that was plenty for me. Now that I don’t even know those basics in Greece, it makes me miss the Central European language that I kind of detested while I was there. It was so hard to learn and the pronunciation was hella rough, but I’ve realized that by the end of my time there it felt like a natural background noise that I had come to rely on more than I ever noticed.
My journey with the Greek language is only just beginning, so for now my brain still panics when I’m in public and says random things in Hungarian or Spanish, neither of which is understood here. I don’t know why I don’t just stick to English honestly, but it’s like a switch that I can’t shut off. When I hear a foreign language, I try to reciprocate in my own speech via whatever foreign language I know that feels the most comfortable. I’m excited to know that eventually this will happen with Greek and it will become my default language. I can’t wait for that.
Does anybody else who’s gone abroad have similar language experiences? Tell me in the comments!