Friday, September 01, 2006

One for nzm

How about some Catalan? (I think it's Catalan!) Don't worry, he translates. Count this as a postscript to Bloggers' Day. A newsy, philosophical, humorous site. And check out his survival links!

And while I'm here (3.10 a.m. OMG) I've been meaning to mention that ever since I started Spanish, I have had interference from the French I learnt at school, and the Italian from a course of evening classes that Habibi and I took when we got married - for da honeymoon in Sorrento. And I mean interference, just like the mess between radio channels.

The first Spanish phrase I learnt was 'Vamos a España'. 'Let's go to Spain.' It could hardly be any simpler, could it? But I'd open my mouth to say this, and out would come 'Andiamo a España.' Which is fine. If you're Italian. I wouldn't mind, but the Italian course lasted a couple of months, twenty years ago - which was also the last time I was in Italy. I get French, too, in more demanding situations, though when I've been in France, it has generally taken three days for my French to kick in.

I've talked to other foreign language learners, including our head of French, who speaks French, English, Russian, Italian and Spanish (!!!!!) and they all recognise the experience. Habibi never realised how much Italian he knew until he started Spanish!

My theory is that there's a file in our brains labelled 'Native Language' and another labelled 'Foreign', and until you get really fluent in a second (or third) language, they stay in a jumbled heap in the 'Foreign' file, which is opened by adrenaline. The only comfort is that in addition to 'Speech' this file also contains 'Loud Voice', 'Wild Gesticulation', 'Funny Faces' and 'Embarrassment Bypass'. It's good fun, actually, in a mentally exhausting sort of way. :D

I once met a man who spoke twelve languages fluently. His grandparents and parents had married foreigners, and yet were a close family who spent a great deal of time together, so he grew up speaking one language to one, another to another, and so on, and then expanded his range at school and university. I had a waitressing job at Heathrow, and remember a Swiss family: the wife and children told the father what they wanted in French and German, he gave me their order in English, and they evidently all understood all three languages. I have a friend who speaks Arabic, Armenian, English, Turkish and Spanish. Wow. But don't most people out here speak two languages? It's too easy to be lazy if you're a native English speaker.

The reason I got anxious about retaining my Spanish now that I'm no longer in a Spanish environment, was that for three mornings after I got to England, I would wake up thinking in Spanish. It was very slow, sleepy Spanish, but of course it meant that I was really beginning to assimilate the new language. However, by the end of the week, all I had left was 'muy bien'; and any attempt to speak Spanish produced French! 'Foreign'. Damn.

In our family, my maternal grandmother was a Bretonne, my grandfather was English, and my mother spoke only French until she was five, when the family decided to speak only English at home, to help her and her sisters progress at their London school. So that was that, until, in her 70s, with a French daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Mother went to classes in French Conversation, to enable her to converse with her new and lovely extended family-in-law. All her French came back - with the phrasing and idoms of seventy years ago! She's going to France for a visit this month. Great anticipation!

4.20! Bed!


nzm said...

That explains it - all the other languages in my head are in the Foreign File!

MamaDuck said...

There, don't you feel better now?

nzm said...

That graph thing still works for me.

Try this link to see your cow parsley! :-)

See - despite my monolingual state of being, I do still have some uses! lol

Mme Cyn said...

You are absolutely right. I shall never forget the time my brakes went on my bicycle in Japan and I tore down the sidewalk yelling: "Achtung! Oh Sh!t, I mean Attenzione!" at the Japanese (I meant "Abunai" - danger - but it never did come out).

Pamela said...

Having read your previous Spanish post, I think you have no worries. My spoken Spanish is good, I think in either language now - oh except that I forget English words. Spanish has helped me to remember some school French, but I know that if I tried to add another tounge now, I'd just get it thoroughly twisted! :)

Deepak Morris said...

"My theory is that there's a file in our brains labelled 'Native Language' and another labelled 'Foreign'"


The trick, therefore, is to convince oneself that there's no country, nothing to separate oneself from "them foreigners".

Hard to do. How many of us would embrace the idea that we are part of Iraq / Lebanon / Pakistan too?

Babel rules!

Great insight, Mamaduck.


MamaDuck said...

Hi Mme. Cyn. I sympathise. Did I tellyou about the mother of a university friend, a respectable, cultured and much travelled woman, who used to reveal her darkside when coming up from anaesthesia at the dentist's, when she would swear most foully in several languages?!

Deepak, have you been on the wacky baccy?! By way of a tangent, I am really looking forward to Babel, which premiers September 15th, though I don't know about dates here.