Why I write in more than one language

Writing

German is my mother tongue. I learned to speak and write in it first. I read and wrote mostly German for the first 10 years of my being able to do so. My first exercises in creative writing took place in German as well, bearing such promising titles as “Franz und Franziska Fasan” (“Franz and Franziska Pheasant”, in collaboration with Oma Edith), “Rebecca und die Rettung der Delfine” (“Rebecca and the Rescue of the Dolphins”, in collaboration with my cousin Vera), and “Ausreden&CoKG.” (a short story collection of elaborate excuses given by a group of siblings for why they were always late. I did that all by myself, thank you very much!). And, of course, I have always spoken and continue to speak to my family and my friends and almost everyone else I meet in my daily life in German.

Things first changed a little language-wise for me when I went to Ontario, Canada in grade 11. Here – surprise! – I was surrounded exclusively by English for three months. I watched TV in English, gradually came to understand the song lyrics in the radio better, even started dreaming in English. Still, when I returned home, the transition back to German was not completely seamless, but mostly succesful.

Then, things started to change a lot more when I decided to study English Literatures and Cultures at uni. Suddenly, most of what I read was English. Translated texts started to annoy me because they always sound somewhat constructed, somehow artificial. The same happened with TV and films as well: I could accept the dubbed German less and less. The more shows you watch in the original language, the more you get used to it, and then there is a point of no return. Today, I hardly ever see or read in German any more, except if the program or text was originally created in German. Of course there is so much more content coming from anglophone context than from the German one. Very little shows, films, and books are produced in German in comparison, as the industry and the potential audience are are so much smaller. Anglophone media provides a much richer variety than German media ever could. Furthermore, it’s a circular development: through watching or reading one thing from Britain, for instance, I hear about another thing that is related or similar or just sounds interesting, too, and put it on my list of things to watch/read/listen to. That list snowballs quickly, and before I know it I’m fully immersed in that specific cultural sphere. And that is why, even though I live in Germany and communicate in German every day, I often feel much more at home in the British cultural landscape.

This imbalance in language of consumption and language of expression often leads me head on into confusion. It’s so complicated to explain something that I have read, watched, heard or thought in English first to someone else in German later on. Sometimes I feel like I’m not fluent in either language any longer. And that’s not even considering the cultural context. Try explaining the charming appeal of the Great British Bake-Off to German people, or the hilariousness of Fack Ju Göthe to anyone who is not from Germany, and you will know what I mean!

The language-part of my brain was in even more chaos when I lived in Italy for a few months and it jumps at me from all directions when I speak to friends from there. Or when I’m on holiday in France. Or when I am with the Danish part of my family (which, sadly, does not happen often enough for me to learn any proper Danish, but throws me into confusion occasionally on the basis of the few words that I have). So, if in conversation I seem a bit all over the place – please bear with me! I’m not doing it on purpose.

With regard to writing, I stick mostly to English by now, simply due to the fact that, for years, I mostly wrote stuff for uni – essays, term papers, text analyses – and they always had to be in English. It therefore feels more natural to me. But as I want this website to be read by my friends, family, and acquaintances from home, I will try to translate as much as I can. There should be a link to the other language version of each text at its beginning, so whichever you prefer – enjoy reading!!

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