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The Edith Column – September 2018

The Edith Column – September 2018

[by Wendy Bartel, trainee at the BEM mission post in Gembloux]

Frankly, I did not expect that learning a second language would influence such a broad spectrum of my life. Neither did I expect that learning a second language would change the way I use my mother tongue. When I moved to Belgium two years ago, I was excited to learn all about this new culture. I immediately tried to immerse myself in my new French-speaking world. Even before I was fluent, I chose to function (awkwardly at best, in the beginning) as much in French as possible. My habits also slowly changed, and I am now a beautifully complicated mixture of American, Canadian, and Belgian.

What I love about having another language in my head, is the way it broadens my perspective of the world, as well as enriches my capacity to express what I experience. There are new expressions available to me, new ways of describing things, and it feels like an adventure. However, sometimes in learning these new things, I forget which language something originated in or how we would express something in English instead of French. The expression “petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid (little by little, the bird makes its nest)” seems so natural to me that I was convinced that it was an expression we had in English too…which a friend of mine gently told me is not the case!

I also used to be great at spelling, and now I make many mistakes trying to remember which the English or French spelling of words is. Even the autocorrect on my smartphone is confused and is no longer reliable! Recently, I had to explain to my sister what I meant by the way in which I used the word “normally”. Often my Belgian friends tease me about forgetting how to say things in English and it makes me laugh. I never would have guessed my mother tongue could be affected so quickly.

The journey has been enjoyable, and I am looking forward to what our Creator will continue to do with the colorful patchwork masterpiece He is making me into. I will never be fully American, Canadian, or Belgian, but will always be composed of pieces of each of them. Forever imprinted on my heart are the friendships and memories of experiences shared with people from all these places, like treasured pieces of cloth that don’t take away from who I was, but rather add to a more beautiful and complex artwork.

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