‘My mother tongue feels like home’

Tamara Lang (29) was born in Koblenz and came to the Netherlands from Germany in March 2017 for love. She lives together in Utrecht and works at chemical company Nouryon, where English is mainly spoken on the work floor.

Tamara Lang |

“I have been living in the Netherlands for four years. It took me a while to realize that my German was really getting worse. It was about two years ago when I was visiting my parents. I had to search for words. I remember I couldn’t think of the German word for ‘Iceland’. In my language you pronounce that with a different sound than in Dutch, as ‘island’. Frustrating that I suddenly don’t remember these kinds of easy words. Eventually it got so bad that I started using the English or Dutch sentence structure. Now I’m at the point where if I were to apply for a job in Germany, I’d have someone read along with my cover letter. I no longer write and speak it at a high level. I regret that. My German is now very… uh, basic.”

“Sometimes I use an English word in a conversation with German friends, if I can’t find the German word. I feel like such a show-off. They sometimes joke about it. At first I thought it was funny myself. Until I thought ‘it’s getting worse now, this isn’t fun anymore.’ I want to be able to continue to express myself well in my mother tongue, that feels like home.”

“I try to maintain it. I no longer read books in the original language, but in the German translation. I also increasingly listen to German-language podcasts, in which current topics are discussed. In this way I immediately stay connected with what is happening in Germany. I feel that I have to keep up with my German, also because I find it annoying in conversations with friends or family if I have to search for words for a long time, or if I don’t use the grammar well. Does it help? I think so.”

“At home my boyfriend and I use English, Dutch and German interchangeably, we have become very lazy. Especially when I’m tired I talk to him in my own language. And if German has a good word that doesn’t exist in Dutch, I use that too, like ‘heimat’. You would translate it as ‘home’ or ‘home’, but it includes more than that. It is a feeling of your own familiar environment. But yes, in the end it is not good for my Dutch if I throw in foreign words.”

“It did make me think what it does to my identity now that my German is worse. I’ve always said I’m German. Maybe now I feel mostly international. I think losing your native language plays a bigger role than I thought. Now if I go home and I can’t express myself the way I want to, it’s pretty frustrating.”

“Last week I was in Berlin for a few days, where I saw my niece and brother. It was a little tricky at first, but I got back into it pretty quickly. I think my mother tongue will come back when I’m in Germany for a longer period of time. I find that a comforting thought.”

Would you mind if you speak your mother tongue less well?


Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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