multiligual biligual languages dutch french english speaking citizen of the world

The Struggle of Being Multilingual

When I was little, 99% of our summer holiday travels took us to The Netherlands. I was that age where I made friends no matter where I went, but the fact that they all spoke Dutch made it even easier. We quickly moved passed my belgian accent and the differences in context for some words were hilarious. I even stayed in touch with some of them as penpals. I’m still friends with one girl, Madeleine, on Facebook.

Me at Keukenhof, The Netherlands

The few years where my dad felt a little more adventuruous took us to Germany (the year when Ruslana’s Wild Dances won the Eurovision Song Contest.. it’s the only thing I remember from that trip, just listening to that song for days on end) and Britain (Kent has some great gardens. My English-loving-heart was singing). One of our travels took us to France. It was the most miserable trip of my teenage years. Not just because I was in full teenage-turmoil, but because I hated French. (The language ofcourse, not the people)

You see, French is my second language. We have three official languages here in Belgium (Dutch, French and German) even though the country is only the size of a grain of rice on the worldmap. That’s why I started learning it aged eleven. We didn’t click. I was never any good at it. You have to understand that I love languages and not being able to get the basics right frustrated me immensly. The sentiment grew until I couldn’t bear the sound of it.

Back to our trip to France. I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old. We were visiting this medieval castle and my mother thought it would be a great way to practise my French if I went to buy the tickets on my own. I cheated. I ordered them in English.

good moaning allo allo
For me it was the other way around

Now, almost fifteen years later, I’ve gotten a little better at French. I understand just about anything if the person speaking isn’t going at a thousand miles per hour. I can read it too but I won’t go looking for French books. Most importantly, I can explain things now which is essential for my job. I still don’t like the language though, I don’t think I ever will. Speaking French is a necessity here. Even though our capital should be perfectly bilingual, most of the people living/working there only speaks French. They do, however, expect me to be bilingual. If you’re looking for a job, they’ll expect you to be bilingual. That means Dutch – French and unfortunately not Dutch – English.

Just because I can speak French, shouldn’t give other people the right to expect that from me, especially when they can’t speak Dutch. I mean, I can count to ten in five different languages (Dutch, French, German, Spanish and English). I didn’t mind trying to ask for the train schedule in Spanish when we went to Barcelona ten years ago. Then trying to think of all the things we lost at the police station after my dad got his backpack stolen. I can say hello in Greek, Italian and Russian. I love learning basic words whenever I travel to a country where I don’t speak the language. Words are my thing. I only wish I could decide when I want to adapt and not be forced into it.

Please excuse the rant. It’s just something I needed to get off my chest.

What languages do you speak? Can you teach me to say hello in yours?



2 thoughts on “The Struggle of Being Multilingual”

  1. I don’t speak any other language but English much to me detriment. I learned French for over 12 years and yet still couldn’t speak it well. Plus my accent is awful. I can still ask for directions and order from a menu but that’s likely it at this point. I know how to count to ten in four languages. I love to travel and would love to be able to speak all languages. But sadly I cannot. My brain cannot seem to comprehend any other language. I am so envious of your ability to speak and read in more than one language!
    x The Captain

    1. I know someone who has learned Arabic and another who’s now as good as fluent in Chinese. My best friend from kindergarden speaks Swedish. They’re all amazing languages to master, I think. I’d rather learn Norwegian or Italian 😀

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