Believe it or not… I’ve been told that…
“You speak too many languages, Isaya… that must be confusing.”
A little back story is necessary, isn’t it?
So I was born in Greece.
My mother and all my mother’s lineage are Greek.
My father and all my father’s lineage are Swiss.
When I was a baby, we were living in Switzerland.
At the time, my parents were running an architecture firm.
Your usual middle class ambitious up-comers (that was before they had their epiphany and became full-on hippies… a story for another time)
Of course, in the late 60s, and my mum being a feminist… She wanted to work…
So they decided to get a full time nanny.
And in Greece, this is a customary practice.
So they actually had someone shipped from Greece.
That lady, Popi, had been my mother’s nanny during the war when my grand-mother was incapacitated by a life-threatening disease just after child birth.
Popi was, so to speak, a member of the family already.
And she was my godmother.
And she was to become quite a fairy one!
So she took care of me daily when my parents were at work.
She only spoke Greek.
Let me rewind a minute to specify that we lived in the French speaking part of Switzerland where my father actually originated from and that my parents spoke only French among themselves.
So, as a one year old, I spend my days hearing only Greek from Popi and then in the evening and weekends, only French from my parents.
Well.. I grew to become bilingual, of course.
No word. Just the natural learning language of a toddler. Just with 2 languages.
My mum used to record those tapes of me, age 2, actually translating from one language to the other… She would ask me “What does Popi call a fish?” and I’d provide the Greek… and so on…
When listening to those tapes later on (they are long gone by now…) I must say I was astounded at the amount of understanding and knowledge manifested by such a young child.
So I learnt 2 languages from day one, almost.
Later on, Popi left and my parents an dI started a new life, a more unconventional one… which involved a lot of moving around… in various countries.
But I was shipped to Greece almost every summer to spend my vacation with my grand-parents and Popi… and that sure as hell helped me maintain and increase my language skills.
In the afternoon, I used to watch TV (while the grown-ups slept, afternoon siesta being a religion in Greece!) … and Greece being a poor country, all the French and American TV shows and movies were subtitled, not dubbed (so much cheaper!) so I started reading Greek… and learning some English!
Age 10 or so I was a complete fan of anything musical… as in Broadway Musical! I’d watched and danced to (and sung in my made up English) all the major Musical Movies… I was even lucky enough to attend a LIVE performance of Cabaret…in Greek!
So I started being desperate to learn English and be a part of that world (Hollywood and Broadway here I come!)
At the time, we were living full time in Switzerland.
Where it was compulsory to learn German as a first foreign language (because that is one of the other National languages of Switzerland)
So… I learnt German at school. For 9 years.
But we moved to France when I was 12. So I could ALSO start to learn English in Middle School… At last!
My listening (and singing) frantically to the Beatles albums’, while reading the lyrics on the album covers had prepared me a bit … but they had gone as far as possible…
Then my luck changed even more.
My uncle (Greek but married to a British lady, and living in London) invited me to stay in London for a month, to help with my learning.
And so I spent one of the most glorious months of my life, studying the Guardian article he’d pick for me every morning, discussing it in English with him during lunch and spending my afternoons cruising the Tube and browsing the free museums… or reading in the parks. Truly a life changing experience.
And guess what… He invited me again the year after that.
From then on, I was in love with the English language even more…and with London… and the UK as a whole, to be honest.
I ended up studying English Literature and American History at University.
As well as acting (the Hollywood call, again!).
Guess what… I never went to study or work in California…
But I did become an English teacher for Middle schoolers…
And way later I decided to quit and become a coach .. in English!
When I was 23, I was unemployed and on the verge of depression.
I thought I had to give myself some goals, something to do… besides watching TV and hoping to get a yes to one of the billion letters I’d sent…
And, let me go on a segue here, one of these letters got a yes.
Disneyland Paris wanted to interview me.They paid for my train ticket to go to Paris and do the interview.
I was interviewing for a job as a hostess. So someone who … welcomes people, gives information to tourists… i.e. speaks a few languages …
They didn’t hire me. I was “too qualified” they said. I knew too much and spoke too many languages. Seriously?!? LOL!
Now back to my unemployment angst.
I decided to learn Italian.
That would give a reason to live, a goal and maybe I could then look for a job in Italy (pizza and art fan= would love to live in Italy…)
So I did.
I taught myself with a nice set of tapes and books.
In a few months, I was “good enough” to understand most of it and speak like a 7 year old.
Fast forward a few more years, I developed a passion for salsa dance.
So I studied and learnt. And in the process, since most of the conversation around salsa dancing is in Spanish (even the names of the moves are Spanish numbers!) .. I learnt some Spanish. I actually bought a CD that time, to listen to in the car and get some “formal” teaching…
Today? I still understand some of it… and remember a few things…
So yes. I understand and speak some languages.
Some better than others obviously.
Too many? That’s ridiculous, once again.
Too many compared to what?
Too many compared to just one?
But besides bragging, where am I going here?
Buckle up, it’s a big one.
The main difference between people who actually speak more than their mother tongue - and I mean spark not like learnt at school and don’t dare to utter a word - the main difference is that we bilingual or plurilingual have access to a secret that is life changing.
We know, because we experience it whenever we change language, we know that the world is a fabrication of the mind, a cultural creation, not an objective, stable, solid, reality.
Which is life changing.
Let me develop.
Language is like a filter, like a sieve, like a strainer that filters reality.
The way I name an object, the way I define it with my words… creates it.
As a Spiritual person I believe in energy and the absolute power of each and every one of us to create our own reality… The fact that I speak various languages comes as a confirmation that this belief is a real, solid truth.
Examples you say?
Well .. In French, Italian, German, Greek and German all nouns have a gender.
So table for instance is a feminine noun in French and Italian. No biggie right.. Although it does seem “weird” that object have genders…
But wait … So is moon.
So French people are inclined to see the moon as a feminine entity…and they often relate “her” to the Yin aspect of life… Which seems to make sense for your English speaking ears, right?
Now in German… moon is a masculine noun.
So German people have more difficulty with assigning the moon with “feminine” characteristics.
Or let’s take the word sun for instance …
In French, masculine. “Obvious” isn't it ? Well … not in German where the Sun is feminine…
Can you see how the words themselves paint a very different picture..
A female/feminne sun entity… Not really aligned with what is “commonly agreed upon'' (in English of course) around the qualities of the energy of the sun…
“Solar energy is often seen as a pure masculine energy, and in some religions and traditions, the sun is considered to be symbolic of the supreme cosmic energy or God and is often portrayed as a father figure or male deity.”
…One of many quotes around sun energy I found while searching Google…
But not in German… or in other cultures as well, like in Japan or for the Australian Aborigines…the Sun God … is actually a Goddess…
Different words. Different picture. Different understanding of the world.
Of course the moon/sun examples are just two of them… But they make sense, don’t they, since those two “forces” are some of the main things we humans are seeing and experiencing since the dawn of time.
So yes.. Bilingual people have a field advantage.
We understand quite early that the words and the things they describe are NOT the same.
That the way one group of people sees and describes the world is only but THEIR way to see and describe the world.
And that understanding makes it oh so much easier to become curious, to seek to get to know different points of view to the world, to be really aware that my truth… is not THE truth.
It definitely made me realize, at a very young age, that I wasn’t always right. That there might never be a “right” or “wrong” position.
That others may have the same amount of certainty around “truth” or “reality” … and that we all are wrong, that we never can define that one reality, that one truth.
It helped me understand that there is more to the world than what meets the eye, that “normal” is a construction of the frightened mind.
It gets me out of my comfort zone daily… Which is actually where everything happens, as we all know.
Speaking “too many languages” is actually an incredible richness. And I feel so much gratitude for the chain of events that made me this “too many languages” person.
Not to mention that this is what has brought me here, writing to you in English (my third language, as you now know) and feeling so proud and honored to be able to see the world through so many different perspectives… and help teach that to others … and translate some of the experience, literally or symbolically, to my fellow humans.
So much for today ...
I would be so happy to hear from you about all that.
Thank you in advance for your comment.
See you soon, for my next online adventures!
Until then I send you love, light and gratitude.