That is a question I have been asking myself for years now. English is and always be my mother tongue, and I command it like no other of the languages that I speak.
German, for example, is something I speak on a eat, sleep and breathe on a daily basis, admire greatly, but I know that no editor would survive me if I had to put a short story together, let alone a novel! Brilliant though the language is, it is better suited for academic dissertations, political analysis, or technical papers. The extent of the linguistic precision of German is mind boggling, but it will never be as lyrical or poetically emotional as Spanish or Italian.
My Filipino is right up there with German, if not lower… in fact, if you ask anyone who speaks German and Filipino (Tagalog) fluently enough, my German is much better. My parents raised me with English because we lived outside of the Philippines the first 15 years of my life. So it is not a language that flows naturally from me, having learned it much later in life, and from scratch. I love to watch the faces of people when I tell them the story of me being in a class called Filipino for Foreigners I my first year of High School, having recently moved back to Manila, and being outdone by Sri Lankans and Australians. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to cover it, humiliating is more the word. The local parish once asked me to run workshop for them, which I readily agreed to, and we both regretted later on. The expected medium of instruction was Filipino, and my heart plummeted. I managed to get through the module with Taglish, an abomination of English and Tagalog, but I knew I had let the audience down and came across as too snobbish.
Spanish would be a good candidate, since this is a language I definitely master far better than German in written and oral forms. I am a bit out of practice, but if I packed up and moved to Spain or somewhere in Latin America I would be up to literary speed in no time. Reading authors like Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Navarro, or Carlos Ruiz Zafon I lose my nerve for a few hours but then realize, hmmm, why not?
For the remaining languages that I do speak, there is no way that I will even get a proper essay together simply because I refused to learn the script in some cases (Hindi and Thai), or haven’t lived long enough in a place to become fluent. My Italian is good enough for the market, a restaurant, or sorting things out with the hotel but that is about it.
So that brings me back to English. My fluency in English, German and Spanish are the reason I could afford to have my three main characters speaking three different mother tongues in Wings at Dawn. For the next couple of projects I will definitely stick to English though, and would eventually venture out to translate my own books into Spanish, assuming I find the right editors.
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