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Top ten problems of growing up multilingual

Growing up with two or more languages has all the advantages one could imagine: more people to communicate with and more opportunities. It also often involves travelling more to visit the family, and feeling at home in two different countries.

But the blessing also comes with some disadvantages.

No one knows this better than trilingual Anna Pujol-Mazzini, daughter to an Italian mother and a French father, and student in the UK.

Here she recounts the problems that multilingual children face everyday, from the woes of auto-correct on your mobile phone to being exploited as a translator by your friends.

1. “Say something in/teach me the language!”
When bilinguals meet strangers for the first time they will get the full circus-freak treatment. Everyone gathers around the said specimen and the ritual begins: “How do you say table in Italian?” How do you say “my name is”?” followed by “Oh, that sounds so cool!”

2. Knowing you’re in trouble
The parent who speaks to you in your second language will often make a point of doing it when angry. So if your Italian mother calls out to you in Italian, you know you’re in trouble.

3. Being auto-corrected in the wrong language on your phone
From my personal experience, trying to text in Italian is the most frustrating aspect of being multilingual. So, the straightforward phrase: “Buongiorno. Oggi devo andare al mercato e dopo ci possiamo incontrare al ristorante verso le sette!” (“Hello. Today I have to go to the market and after we can meet at the restaurant at seven!”) becomes an incomprehensible mess.

4. Being used as a translator
A restaurant menu? A line in a film? Lyrics to a song? Little by little, everyone around you will forget the very existence of Google Translate and ask you to do it for them.

5. Having to prove your nationality
If you start speaking a foreign language from a young age your accent will almost sound native. So when I tell Italian people that I’m also French they smile and say: “No you’re not.” An awkward silence then ensues where you have to prove your mixed origins. “See, I can speak French! I was born in France! Look at my passport! Do you believe me now?”

6. Badly-dubbed movies
When I come back to Italy after living in the UK, watching TV becomes an everyday struggle. You see the actors’ lips move to try and convey English words, but they are inexplicably speaking Italian.

7. People making fun of you no matter what language you speak
At the end of the day, no matter how many languages you speak and how well you have mastered them, you will mess up every once in a while. You will invent words or give them new pronunciations. And your friends will never forget about that time you said “Ow-gust” instead of August. Never.

8. Having friends that speak different languages
Trying to make friends from your various countries of origin, who also speak different languages, can be a tricky one, especially if not everyone speaks English. If they do, having to speak English with Italian friends you have always spoken Italian to can feel strange. If they don’t then you have to sit down and work as the interpreter for the night to avoid anyone feeling left out.

9. Friends telling you to stop ‘showing off’
After a year of studying in the UK, I went back home to Italy for Christmas. By now accustomed to British politeness, whenever someone brushed past me I would turn around without thinking and say “sorry!” My Italian friends would then turn around and say: “Stop showing off just because you speak another language.”

10. Mixing up languages
Speaking two languages on a regular basis means you have to constantly focus on what you’re saying to avoid messing it up. But sometimes, without realizing, you start a sentence in English and finish it in italiano.

This article appeared in The Local on April 30th. You can access the original article here


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