De Nayr Ibrahim

07 novembre 2013 - 16:26

Being bilingual
Being bilingual

Life in Europe started off as a search for the self that ended up with the reality of paying the bills, which English did so well. Unknowingly, I had embarked on an EFL career in Porto … 

working for various language schools, giving private lessons, taking on summer work (the hourly-paid syndrome), until one day my mum mentioned the ‘English school’ in rua do Breyner. My mum’s knowledge of this ‘English school’ went way back to the 50s when she worked for a Mrs. Radcliff in Porto. Mrs Radcliff had been a teacher at the ‘English school’ in rua do Breyner and had taught my mother her first English words. When I arrived at the ‘English school’ in rua du Breyner, I was met with a plaque, sporting many little dots in a star formation, preceding the British Council.

If Portuguese was my home language growing up in South Africa, and defined me as a daughter, as a student, as a young girl, English became my home language as an adult in Portugal, and defined me as a mum, as a wife, as a young professional. So English and Portuguese swapped roles and learnt to see the world through different coloured spectacles. A certain balance was established, as both languages experienced life from the same, yet different perspectives.

However, English has always been the constant in my life, a thread that weaves together all the differences.  Portuguese will always be there; Afrikaans remains in Africa, where it belongs, I suppose; French, that foreign language that I dreamt to live in one day, is alive and kicking and my other language adventures are excellent memories, but remain just that. English, on the other hand, still defines my education, my family and professional life, my interest in languages, my postgraduate studies in multilingualism, and now my son’s future.

English, the language, is a hyphenated identity, co-existing with other linguistic backgrounds, cultural traditions, and national identities. I have a linguistic identity in English – I am able to appropriate this language, the cultures it embodies, its nuances, its local contexts, and its ever-growing lexicality. English is no longer contained in a cultural-geographical site; it can be someone’s personal identity through a language that gives itself generously and wholly. English is now beyond culture because it can be appropriated by the many to become a unique possession of the individual.

English gave me an alternative way of being. I was always attracted to the lightness, the freedom, the objectivity of English which counterbalanced my more emotional, deep Portuguese side.  English was always generous, and like a loving mother, always welcomed back the prodigal daughter – I may be the eternal prodigal daughter, moving between my languages, my identities, my countries with a tinge of guilt, wonderment and eternal discovery.

Back to our party now – English has always been a welcoming and generous host, imbibing languages and cultures, welcoming new guest with open arms, embracing change, adopting new behaviours and adapting to new worlds. This is a multilingual party I hope to invite many more people to as they discover that they too can become linguistic geniuses.

Tell us about your linguistic party and the English effect on your life …

The English Effect:

Photo of Dr Nayr Ibrahim, Head of Young Learners at the British Council in Paris

Nayr Ibrahim

Nayr était jusqu'à récemment la Directrice de l’enseignement des enfants et adolescents et de la section bilingue au British Council. Elle a aussi travaillé au Portugal, en Egypte et à Hong Kong. Son intérêt pour le bilinguisme s’est éveillé grâce à son travail avec les élèves bilingues. Elle a écrit plusieurs articles et blog sur le bilinguisme. Elle est doctorante en bilinguisme à l'Université de Reading.