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I had a new revelation about language learning yesterday, for you closet linguists out there.
As you may know, I grew up learning Norwegian and German from my parents, and studied Spanish in high school and beyond.
I spent a lot of time immersed in Hispanic culture in college, and became fairly fluent.
Once I really learned Spanish, it was no big deal to switch between that and English and Norwegian.
I still continue to speak primarily Norwegian with the kids, since I’m a firm believer that the brain learns new languages best when we are young–the younger the better.

So now we’ve been in China for 9 months, and my Spanish has been fairly dormant for that time.
Until yesterday.
I met a woman from Spain, and tried to have a casual conversation with her.
It was absolutely incredible how every single Spanish word in my brain had been replaced with the exact equivalent in Chinese.
Pronouns, verbs, possessives, word order, the works.
Try as I could, it was nearly impossible to just rattle off a simple phrase in Spanish.
After a few minutes, if I focused really hard for a painful length of time, I could spit out a complete and grammatically correct sentence without any Chinese words thrown in.
I guess I should be encouraged that my Chinese is stored in the same place in my brain as the Spanish.
I just hope the Spanish isn’t on its way out…
Although we only use a tiny fraction of our brains as it is, so I probably needen’t worry.
It only took me about 28 hours to figure out how to say “Do your children speak English?”
Hablan tus hijos ingles?

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3 responses »

  1. I wanted James to teach Marissa German, but I think he’s too embarrassed. Plus, mine is horrible, so he has to translate everything for me. She’s already dropped the non-English sounds, so it’s too late for her. šŸ˜¦

    I remember when you’d come back from Norway, you’d talk in a combination of Norwegian and English. James’s first language is German, but he doesn’t seem to do the same thing. He doesn’t use it as often as you do, though. His mother, who moved over as an adult, seems to transition fairly well, too. (Her mother lives with them and only speaks German, having moved over only about 10 years ago.)

    It would be interesting to find out if it’s a function of how an individual’s brain works or the way the language was learned and later used or something else entirely that results in things like that. But I only have a personal sample of 3. šŸ™‚

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