Me, My Heart, and I

by Melinda Gallo

Before returning to Paris for work almost four years ago, I kept my French in my back pocket. I pulled it out when I needed it, but kept Italian as my “main” foreign language for over 10 years. Nowadays, I have to juggle both French and Italian, and on a daily basis. I speak to my beau and my colleagues in French, I speak to my friends in Florence in Italian, and I write in English. It might not sound that difficult, but being fluent in two foreign languages is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. It takes concentration, effort, and a bit of fumbling around.

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What I have found interesting about speaking a foreign language is how sensitive I have become to everything around the words that a person says. A person can say something to me and I find myself processing the conversation on multiple levels: the actual words, the person’s tone of voice, his/her facial expressions and my own emotional reaction to the conversation. I think this sensitivity came about when I initially didn’t understand the words in a foreign language: I had to expand my ability to understand a conversation while I caught up with learning the language.

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The moment I step foot on the plane, I begin my transition to the city I’m flying to. Yesterday I took off for Paris for a couple of weeks. To the stewardess who greeted me at the entrance of the plane, I immediately spoke French, “Bonjour.” It’s one small shift that then puts in motion many others, which tend to occur slowly as I fly over Italy and then France.

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