I was asked to translate something quickly at work today, from German into English, and I completely froze.
The words jumbled on the page. I looked at certain capitalised German nouns and it was like I knew what they meant but I had no idea how to express what the word was in English.
“So what’s the sense of this letter, what are they asking for?” they asked / I’m a fraud I’m a fraud I’m a fraud I thought, I’m a fraud I’m a fraud I’m a fraud: “I don’t know, can you leave it with me for five minutes?” / “Sorry, we need to answer this now, what’s the gist?” / “I uhm I uhm”… brain freeze.
Embarrassed, I bring up my go-to German-English dictionary, Dict.cc – “Rechtsanwalt, that means lawyer. But I knew that already actually. Why did I search that? Uhm, I’m not really sure. Uhm. Sorry”
They leave, slightly disappointed.
Even though I now have a job where I can read in French and German again, the words and the sense of the languages continue to escape me. At first it was slowly – a word here, a word there I didn’t recognise. And slowly I didn’t want to read in French or German anymore. And slowly I started to not understand.
There was a philosopher (I don’t remember who) who said that when you speak another language, unless you’re completely and fully bilingual (which is really rare), then you’re always going to be showing a different side of yourself in that language. You modify the things you say, slightly change phrasing and even your tone of voice.
When I lived in Strasbourg on my year abroad, I was haughty and stuck out like a foreigner because of accent/colouring. In Vienna, I was more giggly, childish, casual – I was never good at academic German even when I was fluent.
Language is about constant practise and I feel more and more I’m losing two facets of myself that may never come back.
But do I want them to?