Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
I’ve been writing this blog for almost 1.5 years now, and have been asked more than once why I write in English. The reason people ask is that I don’t live in an English speaking country, and the majority of my readers now probably have my native language Dutch as their first language. (Though I still count many international readers as well which I love!)
The reason I write this blog in English could be that it could reach a wider audience that way, though I initially didn’t really mean for it to reach anyone since it’s so personal. I could also say that most of the people I know here in Belgium know English as well, so they don’t necessarily mind the blog being in English. But even if that’s true, it’s still not the main reason I chose English. In fact I didn’t even consider using Dutch, because I don’t feel nearly as comfortable talking about issues this personal in my native language.
So why is that?
English is, in fact, my second language. I learned it when I was a teenager, dived straight into it and never let it go. Over the years, the English language has meant a lot to me. It was the major I chose in college, and the language in which I lived my marriage. It became my passport to 2.5 years of living in China and some months in the U.S. It was the glue that connected me to penpals, colleagues and friends all over the world, and its collection of novels, plays and poetry became a source of endless delight.
Yet, what English did more than anything for me, was allow me to reinvent myself.
I grew up in Dutch. It is the language of my childhood, of all my primary relationships, of my psychological hardwiring. I grew up as a certain type of person in my native language, and the language still holds those patterns for me. When I speak it, I invariably become part of the language culture, too. I feel emotions that I associate with it, and think thoughts that fit the same models.
When I learned English as a teenager, and especially when I used it in new contexts, away from my life at home and the circle I knew, I found that I could become a different person through it. The Jorinde who spoke English was more spontaneous, more confident, more positive. I wasn’t so afraid to talk about certain topics, because the words didn’t have the connotations that their Dutch counterparts did. It helped set me free in many, many ways.
There is a caveat, however…
Now what I neglect to do, when I use English as my means to express myself, is to break free from old and useless patterns in my native language. By using English, I take a detour to freedom. The challenge lies, therefore, in going through the awkward experience of using words that may feel icky, or painful, or might scare me; to express myself fully. If I say these things in Dutch, they will be accessible not just to those who read English (well), but to everyone in my native culture. And the words will dig much deeper too, since those words carry connotations for those people as well. It feels really very vulnerable (which always conjures the image in my mind of a big red arrow yelling: ‘Do this! Do this!’)
It’s bound to happen eventually, a Dutch blog, I know there’s really no way around it. But over the years English has become such a huge part of who I am that I don’t see the need (nor do I have any desire) to let it go completely. I still speak, read, hear and write it on a daily basis. I still use it to connect to people. I still enjoy it tremendously, as well as my native language.
The freedom a second language gives you, the freedom to reinvent yourself, to evolve into a new version, is a wonderful gift. We gain access, not only to new contacts, literature and music, but to a whole new way of being.
I’m lucky to have grown up in a country where nearly everyone speaks at least 2 languages, and many of us speak 3 conversationally. We learn, early on, that Dutch isn’t going to get us far internationally.
For those of you who grow up speaking English, or Chinese, or Spanish, or any other language giant; the reality is quite different. You don’t have to learn a different language to live your life. You’ll get by.
Perhaps knowing the freedom it can give you, however, the exploration into a different way of being in the world, can be a wonderful motivation.
Do you speak a second language? What’s your experience speaking this language? Do you feel it’s a way into another state of being, or do you think I’m totally off my rocker? I’m really curious to hear what you think!