Losing my Second Tongue?

I don’t know if this is a saying in English but in French a literal way you could translate the word “language” could be “tongue”.

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One cool thing about me is that I understand 2 languages, French and English, and I used to proud myself in saying that I was bilingual. Nowadays, though, I feel as though I’m not as capable of saying that as I did when I was younger.

I went to a French immersion elementary school where the whole day was conducted in French up until second grade where we started to get about an hour of English lesson a day (if my memory serves me correctly). Had it not been for my parents I would have learned how to read in French before English. I did, however, learn how to write in French before English, which is kind of funny now because my writing skills are horrible.

I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t understand French; it’s just always been a part of me. Lately though, I don’t feel as confident and it both scares and saddens me. I always hated that I was forced to learn it when I was younger because I never really saw a point. My parents only spoke English and I lived in an English speaking province. Sure it is an advantage for Canadians to know both languages but as a naïve child I thought I could do better without it. That is until I moved provinces to where the main language is French and English is practically frowned upon. It became an advantage to know what people were saying around you and to not stand out as being “that English person”.

I soon grew to like the language even though my new classmates had begun pointing out my weird pronunciations and sentence structure. I quickly adopted their dialect and felt like I fit in better even though it was a bit of a struggle because I felt like I had to re-learn my second language.

I had been LOSING A PART OF ME, and I didn’t even notice

Since growing older and moving to a more bilingual city within that same French province I have pretty much given up on French for the past 4 years. I have managed to get by with taking up an English speaking job, going to an English university, having English friends, and answering sales people with “hi” instead of “bonjour” when they greet me.

It has been only recently I’ve been put into situations where I’m being forced to speak French. First it was my art classes, where in the beginning my teacher was conducting them in English but by the 6th class he pretty much switched to French. I quickly adapted and now feel relatively comfortable to converse with him in French. Second came when I went for a job interview and I stumbled through it.

On my walk home while playing back the interview in my head I felt discouraged as I realized that I was losing my French. I had been losing a part of me, and I didn’t even notice. By avoiding it I was losing it and in turn a piece of who I claimed to be.

People tell me I just need to practice and it should come back in no time considering I learned it when I was really young. But I don’t know where to start. Do I read easy books? Think more in French? Watch more French television? It’s this uncertainty that I feel is preventing me from actually starting, that and a sudden self consciousness about my dialect.

It’s a strange feeling to notice something that has always been there begin to slip away, particularly a language because they really are a part of a person. And when you do you find it slipping you suddenly want it back. French is such a beautiful language (which is sadly butchered by the dialect of this province) and is one I’m proud to say is within my repertoire.

So take it from me. If there’s something you truly love about yourself, be a language or another quality… Hold onto it, because if you let it slip you never know when you just might need it again.


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