by Melinda Gallo

Juggling three languages

While I am in Paris, Italian begins and ends my day, I speak French during the day, and write in English. I talk to myself in a mix of languages though. Sometimes, Iím not even sure which language Iím using. Here itís mostly French and some English while when Iím in Florence, itís a mix of Italian and English. When I was learning Italian initially, I would always speak to myself in Italian. I found it an effective way for me to immerse myself in the language. I find it a little more challenging to juggle three languages than when Iím juggling only two. Usually, my brain divides them into "my" language and "foreign" language.

For me, English is always clear. Maybe because I read and write a lot in English generally. I rarely will forget an English word although sometimes a word that fits better in French or Italian might come to mind quicker.

What I find interesting is that sometimes I donít know which language a person is speaking to me because I understand what they are saying, but donít necessarily pick out which language it is. The other day I was in the street and I heard a couple arguing loudly. I felt a little embarrassed as I walked past, thinking that everyone must know their business. Suddenly I realized that they werenít speaking French, but Italian.

In the morning, when I speak to my husband, heíll speak to me in Italian, but Iíll respond in French. Itís odd because I donít realize Iím speaking the wrong language until the words come out of my mouth. I know what I want to say and I say it. Itís almost as if when Iím in Paris, my first reaction is to speak French.

I wonder if the brain always interprets meaning or if we normally interpret speech word for word. I think in English I do the same. I donít get stuck on a word, but rather take in the meaning of what was said.

I am certainly enjoying the challenge of juggling three languages. It definitely keeps me on my toes. I am so happy that French, my first great love, has come back to be a part of my life again. For me, it is a joy to speak another language, to communicate with other people I wouldnít necessarily be able to in my mother tongue, and to learn the many nuances that make up the culture in which a language is spoken. Returning to Paris has definitely enriched my life in many ways that go well beyond the language.

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