Yes, you got that you’d need to learn a new language when you moved abroad but did you consider that you don’t just speak a second language everywhere you go, but that you actually have to live your life in a second language? If you have moved for the long term, or have a local partner then you’ll soon get that speaking in a tongue not your own is very different to living life in a tongue not your own.
My husband’s first language is Dutch and I obviously knew that before I moved to the Netherlands. But now I realise just what it means when I say my husband speaks and is Dutch. It means my in-laws are Dutch. It means my children are Dutch and they go to a Dutch school – so their teachers speak Dutch. My children’s friends communicate in Dutch, as do my children’s friends’ parents. I do my shopping in Dutch. My neighbours speak Dutch. People who knock on my door speak Dutch (mostly – but those are stories for other posts I think) and when the telephone rings there is a good chance there is a Dutch speaker on the line. Dutch, Dutch, Dutch. One the one hand that’s great – you can’t beat that kind of immersion when it comes to learning a language. Eventually you actually start thinking partly in Dutch too but are you really ever so fluent that you can be your true self in a second language?
No matter how many books I read in English, how often I speak to my kids in English, how many calls I make back to England to speak to family and friends or how many programmes I watch on the BBC there is no escaping that I live my life in Dutch. Even after 15 years in the Netherlands that is sometimes tiring and frustrating. The words I need to express myself properly are sometimes not on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes I come across as an idiot who can’t string a proper sentence together. It can sometimes be a little bit lonely living as a minority of one…….