English or Czech?

February is only slowly winding down, but all the flowers are in full bloom. It is more than ten degrees Celsius, which is technically considered summer here in Scotland. People are walking around in t-shirts and shorts, the parks smell of barbeque and kids are running around, playing with Frisbees or alternatively trying their hand at slacklining. In the last week, I spent almost four full days in the park trying to replenish my vitamin D supplies after long and dark Scottish winter. When I went to the park with Míša Zemachová, we stumbled upon an interesting topic: how does it feel to keep switching between Czech and English and how do we see the differences, and how we are viewed by native speakers.

Recently, I ran into a student of linguistics. I have been told, “Bob is most probably analysing your accent and your sentence building”, which got me thinking. In my close friend group, most people are native speakers; in my flat there are only two non-native speakers. When I first moved in, I was told that “English is good” and that “I have a cute accent”. While I am quite aware of the fact that this was meant as a compliment, it came across as slightly patronizing. If I forget a word for just a second, someone finishes the sentence for me (which is funny as this happens to me in Czech too). Sometimes it happens that after I say even one word, I am asked where I am from, despite the fact that I have been told that my accent is not strong. And even though native speakers have their own accent, there is a difference between an American, British or Scottish accent and Czech, French or German accent in English.

Even though I would call myself bilingual, sometimes I find it hard to switch between the two languages, or at least it is mentally taxing. It is easy to stay in one place for a while, mentally, but if I call my family or talk to my Czech friends, it can prove to be difficult to instantly switch languages back and forth. Sometimes it is easier to find the right phrase in Czech, sometimes in English. And some words are simply impossible to translate.

But at the end of the day, I am glad that I get to experience my reality in two languages. I thought I understood what it meant to speak English because my high school studies were in English. But living abroad and being emerged in the language fully is something completely different. And while it brings some disadvantages, I am still grateful for this experience.


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