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Alter ego

Most websites I’ve built professionally have been multilingual. It’s very common in my experience to at least consider the question at the start of a project. Naturally, when I started working on this here site, I started with the idea to make it available in both English and French. Somewhere along the way, I went back on my decision for the Blog Journal section.

I’m justifying this to myself by saying that it’s a lot of work to translate everything. To be honest, I find it difficult to sit here and put thoughts into words. It’s a new habit I’m trying to develop. Translation, on top of everything, is just a PITA.

You may have already guessed that English is not my first language. There are a few clues here and there: my surname, where I live, maybe an awkward turn of phrase. Still, this may not be obvious to a visitor on my website, someone who doesn’t know me. When I speak, there are more clues. I have an accent. I’m told it’s faint, not so obvious, but I know it’s there if you listen for it. A few pronunciation glitches are somewhat typical for francophones, like not pronouncing the initial H in words like “hotel” (H-dropping) and the inverse, inventing an initial H where there isn’t (H-adding).

I grew up in a predominantly French-speaking environment: family, friends, neighbourhood, school, from kindergarten all the way to university. Francophone students here have a mandatory set of basic English classes through primary and secondary school (aka. elementary and high school). I believe anglophones in other provinces also have some level of mandatory French classes, but I’m not completely sure.

This is where it gets interesting to me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I can point to a time and a place where I have effectively learned English. Somehow, it feels like I just kinda caught it. It was there in the air. All I had to do was to let it in. Does that make any sense?

There’s a lot to be said about the question of language in Canada... but that’s not where I’m going today. I’m not equipped for a deep dive. The message I want to send, if any, is that speaking more than one language is an undeniable asset in this world. What’s more, speaking English as a second language is a superpower.

Um, where was I? French environment. Fast-forward to now, my life is different. I live in the city of Montreal, which has a diverse population and a more complex take on language. My partner and I primarily speak English at home and on her side of the extended family. As a freelancer, branching out from local collaborators into new opportunities, my work has been happening more and more in English. Not to mention that the field of software development is quite Anglo-centric to begin with.

These days, I’m learning Spanish as a third language. I started in college (a long time ago), and I picked it up again at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It feels great to be a beginner. With a fresh ear, I can focus a bit more on the sound and the quality of the language. One thing that became immediately obvious in this endeavour is that I can’t form an original thought in Spanish. This helped me realize how much of my internal monologue is now in English.

My notebooks are also an interesting specimen. Thinking through ordinary life in my own blend of Frenglish. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll clarify that this is good, not bad. Literally ugly but conceptually beautiful. There is growth.

I guess the question remains: why am I writing in English, right now? I wish I could give a simple and straightforward answer, like “trying to reach a wider audience”, “practising a valuable business skill”, or “just standing there trying to look cool”. Wouldn’t that be something? I feel like reality is a bit less tractable.

Writing in a second language has a certain quality that’s hard to describe. It helps me think differently. It shines a different light on my thoughts, the objects of my mind.

Heart illustration

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Tags: #thoughts #language