The joys of bilingualism

Jul 18, 2022
This seasoned blogger talks about the enrichment of being bilingual. Source: Getty

Being bilingual is a great source of joy for me in so many ways. If you’re bilingual, I urge you to never neglect either of your languages. For one thing, if you keep translating between English and your other language, it will deepen your understanding of English too.

And if you are yet to learn another language, well, it is never too late. You can practice it easily in our multicultural country and when you travel abroad, you will be able to converse with people in their original cultural settings.

Bilingualism opens the window to the treasures of different cultures. In my case, my native one, the Hungarian and my adopted one, the English language world; with its multiple cultures, like the Aussie, the UK’s, the Indian, Canadian and the US.

I can participate in the daily news, for example, in both English and Hungarian, and I can always find important international news, which is there in Hungarian but not in English and vice versa.

I can read Hungarian literature and view videos, in their original as well as marvelling at the richness of and the differences between Hungarian and English colloquialisms. For example, in the original Hamlet, our hero laments:

“The time is out of joint…” Now how does the great Hungarian poet, János Arany translate this colloquium to Hungarian?

He says, “the time has stopped”.

Both Shakespeare’s phrase and its Hungarian translation point to the same idea, but differently and poignantly, namely that, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

These different words increase my understanding of what Shakespeare tries to dramatize through his phrase.

Another inestimable gift I gratefully receive from my bilingualism is that with the help of international Youtube, I can instantly time travel and re-experience some of my peak experiences in my youth in Hungary.

For example, in 1963, at the age of 16, just one year before defecting to Australia, I was blown away by seeing live, the Hungarian Operetta Theatre’s performance of Kálmán’s brilliant operetta ‘Csárdáskirálynõ’: ‘The Queen of Csárdás’ (Csárdás is Hungary’s national folk dance).

I learnt to sing every song in it subsequently. I have also been singing and playing one of these songs in an Aussie pub for the last ten years. I sing it bilingually, first in its authentic Hungarian and then in my English translation. I decided to sing its evergreen lyrics in English too, because I wanted to share its pearl of wisdom from 1914, with my fellow Aussies.

And now with the click of my finger, I can hear the whole Operetta in Hungarian, any time, as I first experienced it live, in my youth.

In 1974, at the age of 28, after I had already called Australia home for 10 years, I went back with my Aussie wife to visit my motherland, Hungary. But after ten years in Australia, when I spoke Hungarian only to my mother and sister here, I yearned for the sound of my mother tongue to surround me, as it was in my youth.

This yearning was fulfilled with an extra bonus of hearing Hungarian in one ear and English in the other, on my first visit back to Hungary in 1974.  I was a kind of bridge between the two: translating to and fro, connecting the English language and the Aussie culture with the Hungarian language and culture.

In doing so, I could enjoy my hybrid identity as an Aussie Hungarian or a Hungarian Aussie. The joy was palpable.

Then in Budapest, I was on a bus with my wife, who talked to me in English while I could hear my fellow Hungarians around us chatting away. It was great fun to eavesdrop on their conversations and simultaneously translate the contents for my wife.

Every language reflects the accumulated wisdom of the culture it represents.

The current Hungarian language still retains most of the original words which the ancient wordsmiths came up with. For example, I learned from Hungarian that health means ‘wholeness’.

This then lead me to research the origin of the English word ‘health’ too and bingo, I discovered that the English wordsmiths also knew that health meant wholeness because this meaning is still there in the mediaeval word in English: ‘hal’ or ‘hale’ which means ‘whole, entire, healthy’.

Thus going from one language to another, we get a confirmation from both, of the fact that the more ‘whole’ we are, that is the more we are physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually integrated, the healthier we are.

So –  szia, bonjour, ciao, bye!

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