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Je Suis Bilingue; I am Bilingual

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A lot of people have asked me what it's like to be bilingual, and I thought it would be interesting to post it here.

I think that being bilingual enables me to stretch my mind a little further, as if it's clay instead of tin. Tin is stiff, and hard to move, whereas despite the fact that clay can dry out if you don't use it for a while, if you use it it's almost generous with its malleability.

It's funny; to different people words carry so many different meanings. For instance, to a southerner from the American Civil War, when you say "gun", they will probably think of a pistol. When you say "gun" to me, I think of an Uzi, because it's my favorite gun on my brother's gun app on his iPod. And then, when you say gun to the mother of a Man who was shot to death, she might think of blood, tears, and the roses on her baby boy's coffin, the same red as the blood on the pictures she had to look at when identifying the dead man as her beloved son.
To make you understand that, I had to use a few metaphors and maybe you still don't (understand, I mean). But assuming that you understood, now you're conscious of it: different people associate words to different things. When you say dog to 10 different strangers, they will without fail think of 10 different things.

(I'm digressing a bit here, but chew on this: if people associate words with different things, then whenever you say something every person who hears it understands it a bit differently. Food for thought?)

So you see the fact that we all understand words a bit differently is proof of one true fact: that it's the object that came BEFORE the word. We often forget that. We are so used to language that it puppets us, loosing us in a labyrinth of meaning, deluding us into thinking that the words came first, so we can change the meanings can get away with it. But really we can't, because they have one true meaning and that it the real object. Something you can't really say until you see it and put together a bit of gibberish and say: "Bubble. This strange circular object that I can't touch for fear of breaking it is a bubble."

When you're bilingual, it's easy to understand this, because you have two different words for most everything. "Run" and "Courir". Both of these words are just sounds and pictures trying as best they can to represent our reality. Both of them really mean "to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground." But they're so different, and that is because it's the reality that is the origin, and not the word.

That is pretty much what being bilingual is like. You see that the world is real, not words. I don't think that people who know more than one language perceive the world better than people who only know one. They just perceive it clearly more naturally. It's just a bonus to being able to talk easily to that many more people.

Also, anyone can learn about this, it's just that someone who knows only one language would not be inclined to go down that path of thought, because it does not directly concern them, whereas a bilingual person would be inclined to think about these things while thinking about their own state of being.

The wonderful thing is that with a light shove anyone can come to know this clear state of understanding with their world, which would be really, really hard to understand without language.

(Another piece of food for thought: Imagine the world without language? No formed thoughts in your head, no words in your mind, only solitary pictures and ideas, with no words to express them. It would be such a lonely existence. Have you ever tried thinking without letting yourself use words in your thoughts?)

Two other things that are funny about being bilingual are that often I find myself mixing words from languages and two is translating.
The reason I'm often tempted to use two different languages in the same sentence is that despite the fact that some words, such as table, or time, can be translated directly, other words have no exact equivalent from French to English. One is the French word "force", which has two counterparts in the English language. One is spelled the same way, "force", and the other is "strength". If you are reading this in English and understand it, then you know they are not the same words, and yet their two somehow different meanings are merged into one in French.
In this way, sometimes one word in French conveys one part of my idea well whereas another part of my idea can only be conveyed well in English, or vice versa.

In a similar way, translations are tricky. The meanings of words sometimes differ slightly when you translate a text directly. So, when translating, you have to decide if you are making a direct translation, or if you want to evoke for the reader what you think the author wanted the reader to understand by using that specific word among a plethora of synonyms.

There is that when translating, and there is also slang, or grammatically correct slang, essentially the vernacular. For instance, when you give a singer a compliment such as "Your voice is beautiful." it sounds correct in English. But in some languages such as Japanese, this kind of thing is not said, and the word beautiful "???" or "Utsukush?" is reserved for the physical, things you can see. There are these kinds of subtleties you have to worry about when translating as well.

All in all, I think being bilingual has allowed me to understand where I stand in the world in relation to language a lot better, and it has come to make me understand the importance, beauty, and necessity of language. I know I could not function without being able to express my thoughts, and I am very grateful to my parents for raising me as a bilingual child and allowing me to understand this dual handicap and gift that is language.

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