This is a very popular Slovak proverb that I remembered today while I was trying to speak a little bit of Finnish after a long time. Many of us speak nowadays more than just our native language. Many people are bilingual or multilingual and even those of us who start with the new language in our middle age can notice that we are kind of different people while using different languages.
The first reason why this proverb came to my mind was that I realised how much easier it would be if all Finns would speak in Finnish as they do in English 🙂 One would not believe that even the tone of the voice is different. Of course, I struggle mostly with the speed of the native Finns talking, but the problem is that Finns (mostly men) also have much deeper baritones and they mumble. On the contrary, in English, they pronounce clearly and in the bass-baritone. It’s so much easier to understand bass-baritone than baritone 🙂
The other reason is that I behave differently when speaking different languages. Most probably it is not the switch in my personality, I just simply behave differently according to my language skills. In Slovak, I like to do small talks and I don’t have problems speaking with strangers. I can be very emotional and use a lot of gestures. And I am also very clear about how I feel in particular situations. When I am angry, you would notice it immediately. But you would also know when I am cheered up or sad. I am simply clear and readable about how I feel. In Slovak, I am mostly a social person who interacts quickly with others. And I am funny and have a good sense of humour, although using a lot of sarcasm.
My second language is Czech. Not that I would have ever learned it. Simply, we were once one country together. I still read a lot in Czech and usually it’s not necessary to speak Czech, because we understand each other. Maybe it’s not true anymore for younger generations… My behaviour doesn’t change so much while using Czech, but of course, I need a longer time to think about vocabularies, as plenty of them are completely different.
Then there is English which I use regularly, but I feel I perform as a person differently. Some days I have these blackouts when I have a feeling that I cannot use any language properly. I am sometimes shy, especially when I have a feeling that the person I speak with in English is either a native speaker or somebody whose English skills are much better than mine. I might also be seen as keeping my distance or being more introverted in comparison with my Slovak “personality”. I am not emotional in English. Emotions are just words I use to say how I am, but you would not guess from my appearance. But to be honest I like to swear in English 😉 It doesn’t feel so vulgar to me, as these words don’t have such strong emotional leadings in my perception. I also realized I can be very enthusiastic in English. Words like wonderful, fantastic and perfect, which I rarely use in Slovak are naturally incorporated in my English glossary.
And finally, there is Finnish. I am a complete introvert and an awkward person in Finnish. I beg that nobody would ask me anything and just let me be at peace 🙂 When I decide or have to use Finnish, I am slow. Like really really slow. I feel how my IQ is dropping down with every word I try to find and every grammar rule I cannot use properly. I have almost no opinions in Finnish. Everything, I can describe only in 3 words’ sentences. Everything is just hyvä or huono. Sometimes mahtava or kiva come into my mind but I am not even sure if I use them correctly, or if it is how I feel about something 🙂 In Finnish, I don’t argue and I am a rather calm person who smiles politely. I answer small talk’s attempts with one word or sentence, which might be seen as rude or weird, but the truth is, I just don’t know how to continue further. But this is only with Finnish native speakers. When I speak Finnish with my mates from the language course, it is a different story. Because we understand each other! We somehow know what we want to say even if the grammar is wrong and the chosen word is not suitable. We struggle with the same obstacles, so we understand our half-broken Finnish 🙂
I also learned Italian as a hobby many years ago. I can’t speak the language anymore, but Italy is still one of my favourite places. And I shine whenever I am there. I can have a complex conversation with like what 10 words maybe? Of course, I am joking, but really I am an extrovert in Italian. I even speak much louder than in any other language. Ciao there, ciao here, ragazza, bella, bambina, gelato and my favourite phrase from the self-studying book: A chi porti questi fiori? To whom do you bring these flowers? Yes, sometimes such treasures remain in our memory 🙂
Generally speaking, I find all this so interesting. Learning a new language is like discovering a new land. It truly is how many languages you know, that many times you are a human being. A different but still the same person. I wish I will once find in my Finnish more of my Slovak self, or even Italian would be great 🙂 But who knows… So far I can only comfort myself and everyone else that learning new languages can keep our brains sharp. Hopefully, our cognitive abilities in senior ages will be better too. Let’s come back to this topic in 25 years 🙂