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  • Writer's pictureAnna Schreibert

My bilingual thinking - immigrant syndrome

I have been living in the USA for 20 years. It's almost half my life.

I have never bought a house in Poland, I have never really worked there, I have not given birth to my children and I have never met their teachers during parenting school. I didn't run a business, I didn't get married, and I didn't get divorced.

I come from Poland, but my entire adult life is America.

Everything I know about life is embedded in American reality.

I speak English much more often than Polish. My group of friends, these most important people come from Poland, being extremely accurate, there are as many as two of them, my two dear friends, one lives in Florida and the other in South Carolina. The rest of the relationships are people from all over the world, from different cultures, with different skin colors and completely different experiences. Apart from the fact that we all are human, similar in structure, the only thing that binds us at this moment is the language we use to communicate.

I love America for its diversity, for giving me a chance to meet such strangely colorful, interesting, and fascinating people. It does not matter whether we speak with an accent or not, the most important thing is that we can understand each other. I want my children to remember that if someone speaks with an accent, it means that there is definitely at least one language in which they speak without an accent.

Americans have a lot of respect for people with accents because the average American knows only English.

And sometimes I just lose or nurture my bilingualism, just mixing the languages ​​up.

I forget myself in emotional situations when I talk to someone about topics that are very important to me, when I have a different opinion in a conversation with someone important to me, or when I feel so good that when expressing my own emotions, I use the language that in my opinion best reflects it what I want my interlocutor to understand. I laugh about it a lot, I often amaze Americans, it always ends with laughter.

I experience stress when I go to Poland. A few days before my departure, I dream that I am somewhere among the people and suddenly I start speaking English. I can see these contemptuous faces staring at me, I hear the grunts of disapproval. I wake up in the middle of the night in my own bed thinking how will I do it?

How much will I be able to control my own expression by meticulously choosing the language I use? It's not that I won't know what I want to say, I always know ... It's just that I don't mix up the languages.

And just as Americans always think it is "cool", so Poles will roll their eyes right away: "Wow, the fu*k great American has come!"

And it's not like that!!

I speak and think in two languages. I can't believe it can be separated. This is 20 years of living in a bilingual, own, internal, and unknown to anyone but me, mentality. Such a hidden part of being an immigrant.

I do not want to confront anyone, judge anyone, to be honest, I do not know when this bilingual thinking appeared. I'm sure it wasn't after two years of living in the US.

It seems to me that the years of living in South Carolina forever marked their share in my American-Polish thinking.

New York was full of immigrants. Speaking in a different language or with an accent was part of New York folklore.

South Carolina was 100% American, going further it was southern.

There my Polish thinking was pushed into a corner, there I had to find myself as a completely new, American-minded girl from Poland.

Only it is a process. It doesn't happen overnight - you wake up and think in English.

It comes with the kids who watch American cartoons, learn American games, speak English to you.

This comes with the first American football game, a basketball game on such a scale that Poland needs another three generations to come to that. And there is not the slightest dose of malice in this opinion.

It has been part of the American culture for generations, and I have become part of that culture by living here.

With each trip to Poland, I feel the emotions of fear and excitement at the same time.

I want to go there, I want to visit my friends in Olecko, feel for a moment as if I have never left.

On the other hand, I am afraid that suddenly, after two drinks, I may feel too comfortable and start speaking English. But I want to feel comfortable!

And once I am there, it turns out that I'm actually the only person who doesn't use English-sounding phrases. I try to find Polish words, equivalents of the coolest American terms at all costs.

I sit there, listening to English-like chatter that no American would ever understand, and I feel more Polish than ever in my life. As if some special modes in my head jumped to Polish places.

I reckon with the fact that when I leave there, I will come back to the States, I will still be for some of them THAT American.

I concluded that my bilingual thinking does not disturb me in any way.

Those who want to hear me will hear me in every language.

Those who feel allowed to judge me will not hear anything that I say, even if my editor was Professor Miodek himself.


1 Comment

Feb 06, 2022

A new insight to you . The Bilingual situation, because, Even thou I get the gist of most languages, I am not any where near bilingual. I am so very jealous of you because you learned our language. Thank you for doing that for us. I never would ever think that you did this for your self. Because you would MAKE IT if you could never speak at all. Amen

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