I still think mostly in English, which means it takes time to translate what I want to say before it comes out. Thus, with the conversational speed of my second language, most of my thoughts are resigned to never leaving my head.
In a way, an experience like this humbles my thoughts and opinions. If I have to work hard to express what I’m thinking, I only express what is essential – which, it turns out, most of my thoughts are not.
In English conversations, I am fairly intelligent, sometimes funny, and able to quickly and accurately recount my daily experiences. In Italian conversations, I am lucky if I’m one of these things. But without a way to fully express myself, my actions must speak for the personality I can’t describe in words.
Am I a polite guest? Then I have to wait for everyone to be seated at the table before eating. Am I clean? Then I have to put away my things every morning. Am I responsible, considerate, or kind? I try to be, but I can’t hide behind my own verbosity here – I must express my personality through actions, not words.
What am I really like? That shouldn’t depend on the language I’m speaking, but the parts of me that usually come through so effortlessly are stuck in a linguistic quagmire.
All I can do is take that old piece of writing advice to heart:
Show, don’t tell.
Elena Neuzil is a native of St. Paul and is a junior at the University of St. Thomas. She studies journalism, Italian and justice and peace studies and is currently abroad in Siena, Italy.