Waiting to Exhale- Inside the mind of a Semi- Bilingual

You may catch me sometimes looking atMixed Flag you blankly, hesitating for several beats before I answer your question or finish the sentence I just trailed off in the middle of. You may have already started your next thought and moved on without me. Forgive me, but the truth is I am still trying to figure out whether to call it a wardrobe, a dresser or a gui zi柜子. My mind is stuck in a hamster wheel flashing up other options that might work as well. The problem is that one of those words has the best meaning but the person I am talking to probably wouldn’t understand it. So here I am, holding my breath and waiting for the word to come out, and here you are, trying to pretend that I am not odd or an airhead or at the least just a little ditzy. In some instances I will just use the wrong word for the language I am speaking at the time, and if you wait for it I may remember to translate for you when it finally clicks that you have no idea what I just said. This process makes me look even more ditzy because I should be able to remember what language I am speaking, right?

I am not really bilingual, and if you want to know the truth I am not even biEnglishgual. Yep, you caught me, that is not a word. If in doubt I like to make it up as I go along. Try to keep up because my mind is a bumpy ride. So is it a clothespin or a peg? Or a i_talk_to_myself_in_2_languages_kid_s_t_shirt-r581602a7953b4888b0479cc8c85dac3b_wio57_324clothes peg? Is it a laundry powder or laundry detergent or washing powder? The English isn’t even really the problem. It is just incredibly entertaining for you because in those instances when my mouth doesn’t wait for my brain to catch up, you to hear me rattle off every word I can think of that might fit until you nod and say, “Yes that is it, I know what you mean.” My good friends do this because they know they have to eventually indicate which word is the right one for Australia or else I will just keep going. Sometimes I think they let me keep going as long as they do because it amuses them to watch me try. Some of the words I come up with are way off base. Did you know a brad in the US is a split pin in Aussie land? Those words have no relation what so ever.

Chinese, that other language that I semi speak but am completely illiterate in, is the real issue. It’s the issue because there are so many of my thoughts, that after 12 years of living there, I must express in Chinese. You think I am talkative, verbose and overwhelming? Imagine if you could hear the 30% of my thoughts that are kept quiet because the entire sentence can only be expressed in Chinese. Oh boy, would you love that joke or appreciate the irony if only you knew what the heck I was saying. Imagine how much more articulate I am when I don’t stop breathing in the middle of a thought because the last half of the thought was in Chinese and now I have to translate it or explain it.20507975064be68c6999116 You might find me understandable. You might think I was humorous. Well maybe not because I never really mastered the art of a joke in Chinese. I want to tell you I have a gege 哥哥, not a brother, because then you would know without any further explanation that he is my older brother. I want to tell you that that problem I am having is well meibanfa 没办法 .  This has so much more meaning than just no solution because it indicates there will never be a solution and all hope is lost. I feel this way when dealing with websites and html. Another word that comes to me when I think of html is ma-fan麻烦. It means trouble or stress or both rolled into one. Hard to translate but sheer joy to apply when you are at the end of your rope. And when you are leaving my house after I have complained about all of the above, I want to say man-zou 慢走 because it kind of means take your time leaving but it also dayton chinesemeans I care and because I care I say man-zou not just see ya. If you are born into a single language family, then all your thoughts and feeling take place in that language. Like me, you may not realize that there are a bunch of other thoughts, feelings and ways to describe things until you start to learn your second language. Once that other language and culture becomes part of you, it becomes very difficult not to express that other language and culture. It becomes, for me, like holding your breath and containing all those other descriptions and thoughts that are running through your head.

By the way if you are bilingual and would like to own one of the t-shirts in the picture above, you can find them and many more items for bilingual families at Bilingual Style.