There are many aspects of living outside your birth country that can be unsettling, foreign or hard to adjust to but forging new relationships in a language not your own is certainly top of my list.
Using a second language, it is hard to convey a real sense of yourself to those around you. Sarah Turnbull, in her book about expat life in Paris called “Almost French”, relays her experience of attending a dinner party as a new arrival in France. Sarah spoke little French and other guests wrongly perceived her as quiet and shy,
“Looking back, I’d said very little all night. When I did speak, it was to issue childlike statements or ask simple questions which made me cringe at my own dumbness,” Sarah states. It is an experience I can relate to.
I am, by nature, a quiet person – an introvert. Hence, why I choose to write for a living instead of a career in public speaking for example. So, I am not the most verbal person with strangers, even in my own language, but for nearly two decades I have faced the dilemma of communicating primarily in Dutch with those around me.
I speak Dutch well enough to get by in daily life, understand the Dutch education system my sons are in, follow the country’s news and political events, watch Dutch television programmes and chat to the neighbours.
However, when it comes to deep, meaningful conversations about something a little more pertinent than the weather or the state of the local park, I sometimes find myself lacking the vocabulary to express the real me. I don’t ‘feel’ in Dutch. I scrape the top of the emotion and describe a basic feeling, but it feels like there is no depth to my foreign words.
In turn, I wonder if my Dutch family and friends will ever know the real me – the one that does have an opinion on important matters, that does have deep feelings on a range of topics but who can only express a fraction of those emotions. A perplexed look and a shallow comment is really not representative of the real me.
A foreign language is one of the biggest barriers to sharing your personal identity. It is a hurdle to being true to yourself in your relationships with locals, even family and good friends.
Over to You
I wonder, how do you overcome the obstacle of language and let the real you shine through?