What I Mean When I Say I Was Brought Up Bilingual

by Lisa Tulfer

The words taste strange. My mother’s milk
has become a foreign cuisine, baby food
replaced by a sophisticated, grown-up menu.

In my grandmother-tongue, mother-tongue, auntie-tongue
I am still a child,
a much-loved child who knows where
and with whom
she belongs.

In my father-tongue, I am an adult,
educated, articulate, professional.
The words of my father-tongue are the tools of my trade,
and with them I have crafted the construct that I am.

Words sit uncomfortably in my mouth,
familiar and unfamiliar,
myself and other
and in between.

©Lisa Tulfer, 2022

This poem was longlisted as part of the Spectrum: Poetry Celebrating Identity project. Click here to find out more about the project, and other poems on the longlist here.


The concept of identity – be it class, gender, sexuality, national, institutional, or anything else we define ourselves by – has gone through radical change over the past half-century, and the idea of definition by binary oppositions is no longer as relevant as it once was.

Spectrum is a poetry anthology that seeks to amplify marginalised voices, and to celebrate the great diversity and rich variation in the identities of people from around the world and from a huge cross-section of walks of life.

Click here for the anthology of shortlisted poems.