So, from these two inspiring students, and my own experiences over the past few days in Italy, I had a brainstorm about a new way to define "bilingual" that involves the whole self. It's something like this: bilingual is when the language on the inside matches the language on the outside: when your inner voice matches your outer voice.
I am thinking this because, as I go through my day in Italy, I try to think in Italian. However, I lack so many words. I can't make my minute-by-minute decisions, create my mental to-do list, or evaluate what I'm seeing, in 100% Italian. English and Spanish words pop into my mental flow; the interrupt my inner voice. Then, I stop to get a slice of pizza, and the my outer voice has to be Italian. The point is, here in Italy, my inner voice does not yet match my outer voice.
What effect does this have on the body? It is tiring! I am constantly making an effort to understand and speak. Culturally, I am in hyper-observation mode, watching people and trying to figure out all sorts of things: how to validate my train ticket, how to cross the street safely, how to get the trash into those giant bins on the street.
This is how language and culture affect the body. You watch, listen, learn… yesterday, my colleague asked if I got to "exercise" my Italian with her student. Right! "Esercitare" = "to practice", in Italian, and yes, it is an exercise, mental and physical! But it is worth it. Once I really know Italian, "have it on my hands", have it "in my heart" (it sort of already is), my inner voice will match my outer voice and, linguistically at least, I will be born again!