Becoming Bilingual

Typically when we hear the word “language” we think of spoken word – English, Spanish, French, etc. Of course, we also occasionally remember being taught about body language when we were starting to go on interviews or perhaps a few recall the love languages hype from five or so years ago.

However, despite these varied interpretations, the majority will automatically interpret ‘bilingual’ to mean speaking more than one language.

I’ve never been bilingual, though I’ve strived most of my life to be so. Not in Spanish or French, but the language of humor, optimism and, more recently, change.

It’s no secret I have an odd sense of humor. My blog is named for my inability to make a joke without then explaining its meaning, or pointing out something obvious everyone has already recognized. I’m almost completely incapable of interpreting sarcasm, again unless blatantly obvious. To cope with my inability to speak the language, I’ve become very good at taking cues from others – laughing when others laugh – or pretending I couldn’t hear and asking them to repeat the statement, hoping I catch it the second time. I’m completely comfortable with these techniques, until someone point blank asks, “Did you get it?”

I doubt most people would consider sarcasm or subtlety a language, nor not being fluent would hurt someone’s chances at success. But I’ve noticed in my work and home life, my inability to “speak the language” creates frustration or a sense of doubt as to my powers of comprehension.

Similarly others find my serious nature to be irksome. In a playful, frivolous environment, I am often the one to beg seriousness and returning to the problem at hand. I don’t know how to make a complicated subject light hearted, nor ease the tension of a room with an off hand remark. My language dictates directness and sober discussion.

Through observing others and learning from misunderstandings, I’m able to create sarcastic statements of my own, but still not quite able to understand most everyone else. In language terms, I’m pretty sure I’ve got the verbs and nouns down, but I’m struggling with the conjugation and local dialects.

So how does one become humor bilingual? Do I have to give up my native language entirely?

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