I used to think that speaking six, well technically five and a half languages was everybody’s cup of tea, until I moved to Ottawa four years ago. Here, I found out that the average Canadian speaks only one language. Maybe two if they were lucky enough to be born in the right household in the right place of the country.
My first Canadian neighbours taught me that language is deeply valued in Canada. They were also among the first people to express distrust, followed by amazement at my abilities; a mannerism that took me a while to get used to. They were certainly not the only people to react like that toward me. Many times during the past four years, people would ask me if I was serious or if I was joking. I had to undergo several interrogations before any of them would even believe me.
At first this was strange, because I come from a place where the most ordinary people, like my grandmother, are capable of speaking multiple languages, despite the fact that she has never been to school but can still speak in four languages. This is considered basic literacy by Mauritian standards, yet here in Canada, this is considered a major asset.
It feels great and even boosts my ego a little, that my abilities put me, by default, on a higher pedestal; especially in a new, unfamiliar place, where losing oneself is so easy. However, the joy of being multilingual in a bilingual country has struggles of its own. Soon enough, adopting one language full-time will become the biggest ordeal of my life, let alone juggling a few on the side. Between the stammers and "uh's", not to mention the total transformation of an extrovert to an introvert, and a devotee of words to a tongue-tied loner, where talking, even just to say my name, becomes another reason for my extreme anxiety attacks.
You might be thinking I'm being overly dramatic, and maybe I am.
In my head, however, I should be able to talk to four different people, in four different languages at the same time. To me, that’s normal. In reality though, the multilingual thoughts in my mind become a bunch of train tracks, all crossing over each other, with trains coming full speed with no brakes. What happens next is a deafening and blinding crash that causes my whole system to jam.
To the outside world this looks nothing like the so-called multilingual person, instead just an extreme introvert, who is afraid to speak.
Yushra Khodabocus is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. She is originally from the tropical island of Mauritius, where her love of words was inspired by the various languages she grew up speaking. She is passionate about writing and reading and strongly believes in the right to speak and be heard.