A (short) story of how I learned to speak three languages and lost my native one

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Yesterday, I had a sudden realization.

You know, one of those moments when an idea that has been true but somehow invisible to you all along comes to light, and you can’t unsee it?

I do not have a “native” language anymore.

First, there was Italian

I was born in Italy, and for the first 14 years of my life, that’s the only language I spoke.

Like everyone else in middle school, I studied a foreign tongue, French in my case, but I didn’t make much progress at that age like most people. Add into the mix two summers where I spent one month in the french part of Switzerland with my parents, and I could make sense of written French, not much more.

That’s when I still had a mother tongue, Italian.

Then French took over.

I was 14 when I moved to France with my parents.

The first year was quite intense. A deep dive, if you will, as I resumed school in a foreign language in a town where no one I knew besides my parents spoke Italian. I learned, eventually. My French improved year after year, and I reached a point where I was more comfortable speaking it than Italian.

After all, I spent 28 years in French-speaking countries.

Meanwhile, English snook up on me.

English, like French years prior, didn’t stick in school.

I started working online, building websites, hiring people from India to Thailand, to South America, doing business with American companies, and finally joining one 11 years ago. I went from using English a few hours per day to making it the primary language I speak, read, and write each day.

To this day, I have more than 32,000 hours of English practice.

I don’t complain. I enjoy speaking each of these three languages.

But I had this realization that neither feels like my “native” one anymore.

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