Tag Archives: Mental Health

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (Part 2)

Now that the sappy part of this essay is for the most part over, apologies for my sentimental outpourings, I would like to move on. From the rather unfortunate circumstances that English found me in, to where we are today.

With not much more to do through my formative years than watching Doctor Who, Sherlock and Downtown Abbey while imitating the oh-so-charming accents I heard in these programmes, I would accumulate a rather large vocabulary, as well as a British accent. These days, when people hear me speak, in a classroom setting or elsewhere, they usually assume that my accent stems from a year abroad. And I won’t hide the fact that it does inflate my ego just a little bit every time I get to correct them and say that I am in truth self-taught (I leave out the traumatic abandonment part of the story most of the time; it simply doesn’t have as nice a ring to it, and, in my experience, tends to drag the mood down quite a bit).

The first time I did visit an English-speaking country was after secondary school. It had been my wish to visit London for years, and so finally at the age of fifteen, I travelled there by myself (a decision that my mother was surprisingly on board with). There had always been something about the city that had drawn me to it, and the night I arrived, it took no more than a single sighting of the city lights reflecting in the pitch-black Thames water for me to completely fall in love. I really believe that on that trip I left a piece of my soul in the night sky over London.

Since then I’ve visited the city three more times and still it never fails to take my breath away. So weirdly familiar, like I had always been there, or maybe meant to be there – it’s a sense of home that doesn’t need a domicile to feel real. All this accompanied by the fact that not standing out as a tourist, at least in my mind, and being able to stroll around and pretend to belong there just gives me the greatest feeling of accomplishment.

While in London with my mum last year, she let me handle all the talking (as well as the navigation on the underground, one of my guilty pleasures when in the city. What a joy it is to know which way you’re going.). She was fascinated by me chatting with a member of staff at the Camden Market tube station, mostly, she told me afterwards, because I kept using ‘slang’ or simply colloquial language (I suspect she meant I had developed a bit of a habit of using the greeting ‘hiya’ ever since I had briefly visited Huddersfield the year before). The pride in my mother’s eyes at seeing, or rather hearing, her daughter confidently communicate in a foreign language was not only the greatest reward for my efforts thus far, but also the best motivation to keep pushing myself to be better and to hopefully one day complete the perfection of my English.

Having received a certain certificate from some supposedly smart people better qualified to judge my abilities than me which says, black ink on white paper, that I am already a level C2 when it comes to English, both written and spoken, also boosts my confidence that my goal is really achievable in my life time.  English is a huge part of my life. From writing my first poetry in sixth grade to unironically reading Shakespeare plays today, it has given me more than could ever fit on two pages. It may be words, words, mere words to some, but for me it’s a matter from the heart.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (part 1)

My first contact with English must have occurred somewhere in kindergarden.  As I was only four or five at the time, my memories are admittedly hazy. But I remember a tiny children’s book, colourful and made of cardboard, telling all the toddlers in attendance that some people refer to a Katze as ‘cat’. Not that we cared much – there were sandcastles to build and a whole world to be discovered.

Growing up in a small village in the south of Germany with both my parents native speakers of German, my overall contact with other languages was limited. The only open restaurant in town was owned by a Turkish family, so I learned the word ‘merhaba’ before even being aware of the existence of ‘hello’. So it wasn’t until primary school that I started learning English formally. At that age – I was seven in first grade – I really had priorities other than acquiring a second language. There were letters to learn, trees to climb and, unfortunately, basic maths to wrestle with.

All of this was about to change, however, at secondary. Having developed a deeply-rooted hatred of mathematics and any sort of natural science, I was already drawn to languages and the humanities, but for the time being, my relationship with English still hadn’t moved past the ‘at-least-I-can-do-this-instead-of-division’ stage. But life was about to hit me, and it was about to hit me hard. And, once again, my priorities shifted. Where before there were friends to meet and fun to be had, there was now fear to be felt and a childhood to be lost.

I won’t go into the details about what happened when I was twelve, as my incredibly dramatic, sad story isn’t the subject of this piece after all. The reason I’m bringing up this stage of the journey at all is its significance for my relationship with English. You see, it was at this moment when change became inevitable and I was forced to suddenly grow up and function. When the outside world became chaotic, I, god-like, chose to create a new world, a world inside my head, a world filled with obsessions and hyper focus, just enough to keep me sane. When I turned down invitations until I was simply not invited any more, when I was alone – that’s when it found me. A language that allowed me to express through writing what I could never say out loud, a language that let me run away with the Doctor, a language that would bring me the songs that, after hours of exhausting translation, would bring me the messages I needed to hear to survive. A language that opened up an online community in which I felt a little less alone, where others felt what I was feeling and where I could once again escape it all, at least for a little while.

English found me in my darkest place and carried me through it.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp