“Language and I”
3rd November 2022
I wanted to smoke. I didn’t have a cigarette or any friends to ask for it. At first I gave up, but after some time the need came back. I went to look for it again, determined to ask somebody I don’t know.
It’s not nice to take what you want without anything to start with so I asked the girl if she is from Stockholm. She was. I said that I am not from Stockholm and therefore I don’t speak Swedish. I guess that both things were obvious to her. But I was in a good mood so I was talking in a frivolous or maybe even flirty tone. Sad - I am not in such a good mood very often, especially with strangers. After confessing my lack of skills to communicate in her native language, I said that I want to speak it well and we will talk in Swedish in half a year.
Half a year is a tight schedule considering that I started speaking English after fifteen years from the moment I started learning it. But I also think that “English and I” is a different kind of story than “Swedish and I”, because Swedish and I are in love (or at least it’s one-sided).
My conversation with the girl who gave me a cigarette took about one to two minutes but I still managed to tell her that Swedish is my favorite language. Lately, I became open about this affection and I say it out loud whenever I have a chance.
When people asked how Swedish sounds, I responded “like more beautiful German”. I always knew that I like German. And once, there was a situation in the library where I was sitting with a group of Swedish people complaining about how bad Dutch sounds. One boy said that Dutch is actually his favorite language. Really? - I asked - and that was when I seriously asked myself about my favorite language. After a moment of hesitation, I said that it is Swedish. Later on I started repeating it often, maybe because I notice how it makes people happy. Someone likes how they talk.
For almost my whole high school time, I had a Swedish ringtone - a line from the movie “Fanny and Alexander”. It has been my number one movie for many years, but still, I never considered myself interested in Sweden or in their language.
I had a fear of speaking English until last year. In primary school, everybody had a fear of communicating in a foreign language. In middle school, it was worse. In high school, some people were thinking that they can speak well, so they were using some different accents. The worst thing for me was that they were becoming somebody else.
A person who was trying the most was my best friend. I like her in Polish, but I didn’t like her in English. Maybe she was part of the reason why I didn’t say almost any English word being a teenager. She had a different view of the situation. For her, it’s fair to learn a language as well as she can, to not make it difficult for people to understand her. But I think that understanding what you say is different than understanding you.
Sometimes it happens that people change their personalities using different words and grammar structures. I’ve been trying to raise myself in English and stay the same. I feared the disconnection I observed in high school on the example of my friend. Now I think I have succeeded.
Some time has gone by and I have been speaking English on a daily basis for almost five years, I haven’t become fluent in a proper language but I became fluent in being myself inside the language.
Two years ago when I came back to Poland, another friend told me that despite living abroad for a few years, my Polish is always the same. In the example of her other friends, she could say that even when they live in a different country for a shorter period of time, their Polish becomes strange.
Today it has already changed. I can notice that I use some non-existent grammar structures. I explain it as a price I paid for the evolution of my speech. Maybe at some point, the paths I use to communicate melt together.
I talk a lot about learning Swedish. One colleague said that she is against it because she likes the way I speak English. It’s a compliment but also an opinion about the decision I already made. The same girl told me that she can’t imagine herself being the same person in English and in Swedish. Then she was also against me trying to know her in her original. Maybe she thinks that it would be impossible anyway.
Even though it was easier to learn Dutch with the teacher who kept putting me into a German group, I did fail. I learned all five thousand words from the phone app and I finished all the exercises in the grammar book but I have never spoken more than a few words in a supermarket.
I have never truly got a passion. I didn’t fantasize about speaking fluent Dutch and sadly didn’t have any desire to belong there. I never took a leave from the feeling of temporariness. I remember that my motivation for learning Dutch was to understand what people at the bus stop say to each other. Maybe it was not enough to fight for it.