Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not quite bilingual

Lately, I seem to be using more and more English. This is understandable, because the majority of what I read - or write - is in English. But that's not my first language. I don't even live in an English-speaking country. So why does this language of the angles and the saxons fall so trippingly off my foreign tongue?

I suppose it started when I was five or six, and encountered my first English textbooks before even going to school. I remember vividly how later on, after having my first formal lessons, I stumbled upon one of those easy reader books and puzzled over the irregular verb forms. The context showed that 'ate' must signify the act of eating, but the verb looked funny. That dilemma resolved itself soon enough, and with time, I graduated into regular science fiction, fantasy, romance, classics etc. etc.

Another strange milepost was when I encountered the wide reaches of Internet. There I saw hordes upon hordes of native speakers, all using their language with varying degrees of proficiency. There was 'teh' for the, 'thier' for their and 'oppologize' for apologize. Not to mention the wild irregularities of British vs. Irish vs. Australian and (naturally) American English. And there I was, floating on the tumultuous seas of actual linguistic practice without the anchor of a good prescriptive grammar. Or nearly so.

You see, I'd been taught how to use this second-learned language of mine in a manner that was polite and grammatical, and this technical knowledge of the standard form (or forms) of English was better than many of those who were speaking English as their first language. But this only meant that whatever mistakes I did make were often of the foolish and ridiculous kind no true native speaker would make! Yet I persevere.

For despite living in a country where another language is spoken, English has become the favourite of my adopted languages. I may catch myself thinking in French or Swedish if the situation calls for it, but not with the clarity and fluency of my English thoughts. In times, the first word coming to my mind for some object or phenomenon may even be - English.

And so, despite the innate foolishness and frivolity of this excercise that is doomed to an occasional failure, I continue using English as my second language. 'Coz, y'know, I <3 English.

The English language and its varieties are the property of their native speakers. All mistakes, idiocies and grammatical errors mine.