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That's Adequate... But What Does "Adequate" Actually Mean?

Updated: Jun 24

A homage to being multilingual, and this being a cause of frustration - something many of us can relate to

“OK but what language do you dream in?” is a ubiquitous question many of us have certainly heard. It typically comes up when talking about the ability to speak or know multiple languages, and an international community like ours is the ideal environment for such conversations. Yet, why do we ask it? Whenever I bring up this question, the answer has always been along the lines of “It depends on the conversation,” and this is the answer for many other different scenarios. We can speak to our families in one language and to our friends in another. We can study in one language and work in another. If this world has provided us with any opportunity, it’s been this - a wide variety of languages, one I think we take for granted.

Let me first talk about my own experience. I speak two languages at the native level. I make mistakes in both. I feel comfortable speaking whichever language, albeit with 2 to 3 minutes of adjustment. Until now, I didn’t realise the benefits, and detriments this brings me. On one hand, knowing more languages opens the door to understanding others to a certain extent. For example, my native comprehension of one Latin language allows me to learn another Latin language easily. On the other hand, when trying to express myself in one language, sometimes only words from the other come up, and it takes a while before I remember the correct vocabulary. This language confusion can be an annoying obstacle to voicing my thoughts properly. Pointing to the article title, the word adequate has caused me grief (yes, I am dramatic). The Romanian cognate of ‘adequate’ is ‘adecvat,’ and I initially thought they shared the same meaning, but they don’t exactly. In English, adequate means ‘something is sufficient in quantity or quality,’ at least according to Google. In Romanian, adecvat means something is suited to the situation. So, not the same word, and yet, the closeness in spelling and structure has prompted me to use them synonymously countless times, hence looking like an idiot.

On top of making a fool of myself, I reserve certain languages for specific scenarios, because clearly, I’m a psychopath. English is for work, while Romanian is for humour. English is for essays and articles, but Romanian is for family. English is for romance, and Romanian definitely isn’t. If I speak about a topic without using the reserved language, it’ll take a while before I can convey my thoughts fully. It’s not just because I have a lapse in vocabulary but also because it doesn’t feel right to express myself in that language in that context. I’ll shout to a stranger ‘I love you,’ but ‘te iubesc’ is reserved for my parents at particular moments.

Despite everything, being multilingual is a wonderful thing. Seeing how different people think and exist based on how their mother tongue wires them is incredible. In the face of frustration, I reserve eternal wonderment to figure people out, to understand what they truly mean and whether they do what I do, and that means trying to meet both languages in the middle. I hope to never stop being fascinated by languages… and to learn more soon since this brain isn’t getting any younger.

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