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Chasing the Horizon
05-07-2010, 11:53 PM
It doesn't matter which languages, because this is for a fantasy book and I'm just interested in what it's like to be bilingual/trilingual.

How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

I'm sure there are tons of other things I haven't thought to ask, so feel free to share whatever you want from your experiences.

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 12:11 AM
How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

No. You think in the language you are using at the moment. I switch constantly and I can't tell you in what language I think. My native language is not English, but I write in English and all my stories come to me in English. I speak my native language at home with my husband, but because we both use English so much, from to time we do slip in a sentence or two in English. Although, the funny thing is that when I speak to a native English speaker I try hard to hide my accent. When I speak to my husband I roll all my R's and exaggerate my accent. Don't ask me why.

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

It depends on the proficiency of the other person. I speak in Italian with all my Italian friends. When my mom, who's Italian, speaks to me in English, it feels awkward. But then I've had non-native Italian speakers try to speak to me in Italian and if they are not proficient it's just easier for me to switch back to English. Unless they ask me not to.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

My experience watching my kids and other bilingual family's kids is that the environment dominates: if all their friends speak English, no matter how much Italian I hammer into their heads, their first language will always be English. The interesting thing though is that when we go to Italy and all other kids speak Italian, it takes them less than a week to switch.

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

Not sure I understand. Are you asking if it's easier to learn a second language when you are a child or teenager? YES. I have always been exposed to English since I was a child and I had no problem when we moved to the US. Mu husband had a hard time the first year. Also, the fact that they put him in an office with all Chinese people didn't help. :)

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

Ha. Funny. I still swear in Italian, and sometimes I say si instead of yes. But then I go to Italy and it takes me a while before I switch from thank you to grazie.



Answers in blue. I skipped one because I don't know the answer. I guess the native language you never really forget as long as you have somebody to speak it with. A second language... mhm... if you go back to your Country then maybe you'll no longer be fluent... not sure though...

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 12:18 AM
Not sure I understand.
That question was in reference to a really specific situation in one of my books. I have a character who learned a second language as a pre-teen/teenager, and she almost never has occasion to use her native language after that. I was wondering if it was realistic for her to be more comfortable in her second language, since she has to use it 99% of the time, and for years had no-one else around who spoke her native language at all.

ETA: Thanks so much for your answers. They were extremely helpful. :)

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 12:24 AM
I know a man who came to the US (from Italy) when he was 18 and never used Italian again. He's totally a native English speaker. We speak in Italian, but his first language is definitely English. Especially if your character never again used her native language, she'd be a native speaker just like everybody else. So yes, your scenario is absolutely realistic (sorry, I misunderstood the first time -- off to get more coffee!!!!)

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 12:31 AM
Thanks again so much. Your answers really were exactly what I was looking for.

Now, I need to go fix some things, lol.

backslashbaby
05-08-2010, 03:28 AM
I learned my non-native languages no earlier than age 12 or so, btw.


It doesn't matter which languages, because this is for a fantasy book and I'm just interested in what it's like to be bilingual/trilingual.

How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

It takes me a little bit to get into the habit. If I go from Germany to France, I'll still want to answer in German first, etc. Within the day or so I get it straight.

I'm not terribly fluent in any language but English, and I find that words will come to me from the wrong other language, too. So I'll think of gato before chat in France, for instance. It just takes a second to find the right language, but it does happen a lot for me (even in English!)

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it? I love mixing them. But most people who are fully fluent stick to one. Folks who study languages often enjoy the mixing like I do :) And if they aren't fully fluent in their other languages, either, we often repeat a word in another language if they don't understand.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other? n/a

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language? I like French better than English. Dunno why. I'll always speak English better, but I like how French is structured or something.

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

I learned so much from reading that I was at a completely different level than my conversations. Putting the words together correctly is harder than reading. It needs to be fast, too! I still understand much more that is written than spoken, and I can't speak as properly as what I can read.

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress? Usually likely, I'd think. But I actually get better at the other language under stress. I have no clue why. Cursing, particularly, jumps out of my subconscious, I guess.

I'm sure there are tons of other things I haven't thought to ask, so feel free to share whatever you want from your experiences.

I love this stuff! Ask away :)

Tsu Dho Nimh
05-08-2010, 04:59 AM
How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought? People who are truly bilingual tend to reply in whatever language they are spoken to ... and can carry on two conversations in two different languages. They might cross up the languages, but not often.

Less bilingual people tend to have a problem with rapid switching - I compensated by switching into Spanish as soon as I crossed the border and speaking English as little as possible.

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it? It depends on the persons and the subject of conversation. Sometimes you don't know the word in both languages because you studied that area in only one language.

Sometimes the only word with the right flavor - slang especially - requires a blend.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other? Dunno ... the really bilingual people I know grew up in Spanish-speaking households in an English-speaking community. Diplomats' children, and they never shook off the New York accent on their English.

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

It depends on your surroundings. You tend to favor whatever you hear, eventually. After a lengthy stay in Mexico, English (my first language) sounded strange to me. I was groping for words.

I learned Spanish as a teen.

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? LOTS! You need to listen to it and speak it a few hours a week, or go though some deep immersion when you need to get it back again. I would check into a hotel and spend a few hours watching telenovelas and news programs to get back into the mind-set.

Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? For reading, yes, but if you need to be fluent with oral language you need to listen to it and speak it to kee those skills active.
How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress? Hmmmm. In Mexico I would tend to slide into Spanish when I was tired, because it was less difficult than trying to remember who spoke English and who didn't.

Brutal Mustang
05-08-2010, 05:20 AM
It doesn't matter which languages, because this is for a fantasy book and I'm just interested in what it's like to be bilingual/trilingual.

How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

Nope. Sometimes it takes me awhile to realize what language I'm thinking/speaking/hearing.


If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?I had friends who were fellow missionary kids, and we'd slip in and out of English all the time, without a thought to it.


If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?Yes, but it can fluctuate back and forth over the years.


Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?I favored my second language, and started to reject english.


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

I don't know. Now my second language is getting rusty, from ten years of minimal use. But I'll always speak it, understand it. Just stupider than I used to.


How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?For me? Never happened in the presence of non-english speakers.

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 05:32 AM
This is all such wonderful information. You guys are great. :D

I basically have a large cast of characters in my one series who have a variety of first languages. There's one language they all have in common, but for a lot of them it's a second or even third language. I barely speak a word of anything other than English and have had a hard time wrapping my head around what language each character would choose in each situation.


It takes me a little bit to get into the habit. If I go from Germany to France, I'll still want to answer in German first, etc. Within the day or so I get it straight.

I'm not terribly fluent in any language but English, and I find that words will come to me from the wrong other language, too. So I'll think of gato before chat in France, for instance. It just takes a second to find the right language, but it does happen a lot for me (even in English!)
How much havoc would it play with this to have people speaking English, German, and French around you all the time? Would this lead to even more mistakes? *sees comedy potential here*


Folks who study languages often enjoy the mixing like I do
That's interesting. Would it be realistic to have a character who hates having two languages she's fluent in mixed, because she thinks one is greatly superior to the other?


I learned so much from reading that I was at a completely different level than my conversations. Putting the words together correctly is harder than reading. It needs to be fast, too! I still understand much more that is written than spoken, and I can't speak as properly as what I can read.
This is extremely helpful for some of my characters. Thanks!

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 05:45 AM
People who are truly bilingual tend to reply in whatever language they are spoken to ... and can carry on two conversations in two different languages. They might cross up the languages, but not often.
This is also massively helpful, particularly the two-at-once bit.


It depends on your surroundings. You tend to favor whatever you hear, eventually. After a lengthy stay in Mexico, English (my first language) sounded strange to me. I was groping for words.
This is interesting. I always heard that you never forget your native language no matter how long you go without using it. Is it possible that isn't entirely true?


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? LOTS! You need to listen to it and speak it a few hours a week, or go though some deep immersion when you need to get it back again. I would check into a hotel and spend a few hours watching telenovelas and news programs to get back into the mind-set.
Hmmm. Maybe my characters should practice more. Does it work this way for everyone or do some people have a greater 'talent' for retaining languages than others. I know some people learn languages much faster than others, would that also mean they have better retention?


How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress? Hmmmm. In Mexico I would tend to slide into Spanish when I was tired, because it was less difficult than trying to remember who spoke English and who didn't.
That's an interesting flip-side to my assumption that people would use their native language more when they're tired or upset. It is hard to remember who speaks what (I have to have notes, lol).


Nope. Sometimes it takes me awhile to realize what language I'm thinking/speaking/hearing.
I never even considered that it could work like that. It makes sense though. Thanks!


Yes, but it can fluctuate back and forth over the years.

I favored my second language, and started to reject english.
That's another very interesting twist. Was there a reason you did that?

Brutal Mustang
05-08-2010, 06:01 AM
Oh, I just remembered something. I don't know if other bilingual people have this problem, but my whole bilingual family has it. If we are not being spoken to with clear enunciation, we miss what people are saying. It's not because we are deaf, but I suspect because our brains are thinking of multiple possibilities for each sound spoken. Because of this, we typically watch movies with the subtitles on.

Brutal Mustang
05-08-2010, 06:04 AM
That's another very interesting twist. Was there a reason you did that?

I was a teen, in a Spanish speaking world. My folks took in kids in trouble, and told my sister and I we could only speak Spanish in the house, out of respect for them. So yeah, the Spanish definitely took over for a few years.

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 06:05 AM
Oh, I just remembered something. I don't know if other bilingual people have this problem, but my whole bilingual family has it. If we are not being spoken to with clear enunciation, we miss what people are saying. It's not because we are deaf, but I suspect because our brains are thinking of multiple possibilities for each sound spoken. Because of this, we typically watch movies with the subtitles on.

Not here. I have a friend from NY, she NEVER speaks with clear enunciation!!!! :)

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 06:44 AM
I was a teen, in a Spanish speaking world. My folks took in kids in trouble, and told my sister and I we could only speak Spanish in the house, out of respect for them. So yeah, the Spanish definitely took over for a few years.
Is it generally considered rude to speak with someone in a language others in the room don't understand, or was that something unique to your family? Are there 'protocols' to being in a group of people who don't all speak the same native language?

Sorry if that seems stupid, but I don't know anyone in real life who speaks a language other than English, so I'm pretty clueless.

aadams73
05-08-2010, 06:54 AM
How very pertinent right now. :)



How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

It depends. I speak two languages: English is my first, Greek is my second. I learned Greek, full immersion by living there, when I was 11-14.


Back then, it was much easier to switch back and forth naturally. I could do it without much conscious effort, depending on who I was speaking to. For example, I could switch between speaking Greek with my friends to answering my mother in English in a flash. No problem.


Now? Wow. Big difference. I have to concentrate and focus on speaking Greek. The words don't come nearly as naturally as they used to. I have to force myself to think in Greek in order to have my words come out--more or less--right.




If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?
With my father, he'll speak to me in Greek and I'll only ever answer him in English. Weird, I know, but that's our odd little ritual. Now, with others whose English/Greek skills are more or less equal to my own (like two of my old school friends who were raised in Canada) we'd mix it up and switch back and forth, which must have sounded bizarre to anyone else listening. But hey, we understood each other just fine.




If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?
Yes. I've always spoken English at home. My mother only speaks a few words of Greek, so that's what I stuck to. My sister speaks only English; she was just a baby/toddler when we lived there.




Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?
I don't know. My father is very comfortable with English. Just for some perspective, he's lived in English-speaking countries for about forty years now. Is he more comfortable? I don't know.


I do know that I became very comfortable speaking Greek almost all the time. Thinking, speaking, reading and writing in my second language was easy--as easy as English, I'd say.




How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?
Hahaha. As much as possible. I've let my conversation skills slip horribly. Oh, my reading is still fine, but the two are very different animals. Speech requires a great deal more thinking on the fly. I'll hear a word and it'll take me a moment or two to recall what it means, even though the sound of it is familiar to me. It's like recognizing a face and struggling to remember the person's name. Then it comes back and you snap your fingers and go, "A-ha! How could I have forgotten that?"


Like anything, you need practice. But nothing we learn ever really goes away, so once you're immersed in it once more, those skills start to sharpen again.




How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?
Hmm, judging by the amount of times I've shaken my head and muttered, "Oh my god," in English lately, I'd say it's easy enough to slip. Now, when I was speaking Greek all the time as a teenager, I don't think I ever slipped into English. I did slip into Greek a time or two though. Ha, I can still remember two incidents quite clearly. Once on a plane, and the second at my new school in Australia.




I'm sure there are tons of other things I haven't thought to ask, so feel free to share whatever you want from your experiences. One other thing of note, I'm a pretty outward going person, more extrovert than introvert, but I'm not a huge talker unless I really have something to say. But when I speak Greek? Yap, yap, yap. I fall easily into that Greek habit of talking at each other. :D (But my whole family is a bunch of extroverted types, and you either speak up or get lost in the chit-chat.) Not that I just blab about any old thing, but I'm definitely more chatty. There's almost...hmm, a disconnect, like the second language isn't really real, or it's like a mask or something. Either the words have less power or my ability to wield them is less effective so I use more of them. Or something.



I'm going to have to think about this some more because now I'm curious about this phenomenon.

backslashbaby
05-08-2010, 06:58 AM
.

This is all such wonderful information. You guys are great. :D

I basically have a large cast of characters in my one series who have a variety of first languages. There's one language they all have in common, but for a lot of them it's a second or even third language. I barely speak a word of anything other than English and have had a hard time wrapping my head around what language each character would choose in each situation.


How much havoc would it play with this to have people speaking English, German, and French around you all the time? Would this lead to even more mistakes? *sees comedy potential here*


I would understand each of them quicker than having to think about it, but it would mess me up in what came out of my mouth, for sure :) It depends on how simple the words are, usually, but even 'cat' can do it. I studied all of my languages at the same time, literally one class after the other, so my brain got wired a bit strangely for keeping things in only one language very quickly.


That's interesting. Would it be realistic to have a character who hates having two languages she's fluent in mixed, because she thinks one is greatly superior to the other?

I could see that, sure. Some folks also think we 'should' speak one or the other (like French in France), even if we are alone. I do whatever they like :)


This is extremely helpful for some of my characters. Thanks!

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 07:16 AM
Would it be realistic to have a character who hates having two languages she's fluent in mixed, because she thinks one is greatly superior to the other?


I know people that have lived their entire life in places where 2-3 languages are spoken. Take the Netherlands, certain Northern parts of Italy, India. I have never heard of anybody hating one language rather than the other UNLESS there was some emotional event that conditioned the association, for example a group of *nasty* people that stuck to one language, or one language being associated to a certain racism tendency. But if the people have been exposed to three languages throughout their lives, then to them it's just normal. They may not be as equally proficient in all three of them, though.

I know of people that refuse to speak one language, but usually is in a different environment than the one you describe. Typically the different language(s) is spoken at home, and the language spoken outside is entirely differently. If the family language is not "well" seen outside, then the child will perceive it as a label and will refuse it in the effort of blending in. Your situation though sounds different. It sounds more like certain parts of India, where several languages are spoken at the time because of the coexistence of different ethnic groups. If the languages are socially equivalent (meaning there are no social differences between the groups that speak the different languages), then children that grow up exposed to all three will accept and speak all three. That's my experience.

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 07:55 AM
With my father, he'll speak to me in Greek and I'll only ever answer him in English. Weird, I know, but that's our odd little ritual.
Oooh, I'd already been thinking of having two of my characters do this. Awesome to know it's realistic. Thanks!


Hahaha. As much as possible. I've let my conversation skills slip horribly. Oh, my reading is still fine, but the two are very different animals. Speech requires a great deal more thinking on the fly.
This seems to be something everyone agrees on. I'll definitely keep it in mind.


There's almost...hmm, a disconnect, like the second language isn't really real, or it's like a mask or something. Either the words have less power or my ability to wield them is less effective so I use more of them. Or something.

I'm going to have to think about this some more because now I'm curious about this phenomenon.
That is a very interesting phenomena. I'm curious too. I'll have to find a way to work that idea into my book.

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 07:58 AM
Oooh, I'd already been thinking of having two of my characters do this. Awesome to know it's realistic. Thanks!


Yes, my children do that too -- most of the time. As I said, in our situation the language spoken at home is "different". If both languages were spoken equally in and out of the house, I'm sure it would be different.

I know of some parents though that have a stronger 'influence' on their kids, and the kids are more consistent with the language at home. A lot of it depends on personality. Still, once the kids are grown-up and out of the house, there is no guarantee that they will keep using the parents' language.

Oh, and siblings will speak the outside language among themselves. I often ask my kids if they ever speak Italian among themselves at school. And the answer is NO. (delivered with a hung face that says, "are you kidding me?????")

backslashbaby
05-08-2010, 08:04 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by aadams73
There's almost...hmm, a disconnect, like the second language isn't really real, or it's like a mask or something. Either the words have less power or my ability to wield them is less effective so I use more of them. Or something.

I'm going to have to think about this some more because now I'm curious about this phenomenon.

That is a very interesting phenomena. I'm curious too. I'll have to find a way to work that idea into my book.

I bet that's why I could cuss someone out so well in German (in the Czech Republic, but German usually works there). It was a bit of a mask. All my Southern polite words would have competed too much to go off like I did that quickly in English. I didn't even try to be polite first, lol. German's such a great language for cursing!

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 08:05 AM
One other thing of note, I'm a pretty outward going person, more extrovert than introvert, but I'm not a huge talker unless I really have something to say. But when I speak Greek? Yap, yap, yap. I fall easily into that Greek habit of talking at each other. :D (But my whole family is a bunch of extroverted types, and you either speak up or get lost in the chit-chat.) Not that I just blab about any old thing, but I'm definitely more chatty. There's almost...hmm, a disconnect, like the second language isn't really real, or it's like a mask or something. Either the words have less power or my ability to wield them is less effective so I use more of them. Or something.




Wow, that is interesting. It must be a cultural thing. Let's not forget that language has numerous layers and a great part of it is cultural (think of all the words that exist in one language but not another). For me the chattiness doesn't change, but what does change is the tone of my voice. Somehow, it's more high-pitched when I speak in Italian. It's not an impression, even my mom says that. I should say that most people I know do not detect an accent when I speak English. What they do detect is the inflection.You know that musicality that everybody tells me Italian has? Apparently, I have that even when I speak English. Funny, because I never think of Italian as a musical language. :)

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 08:08 AM
I know people that have lived their entire life in places where 2-3 languages are spoken. Take the Netherlands, certain Northern parts of Italy, India. I have never heard of anybody hating one language rather than the other UNLESS there was some emotional event that conditioned the association, for example a group of *nasty* people that stuck to one language, or one language being associated to a certain racism tendency. But if the people have been exposed to three languages throughout their lives, then to them it's just normal. They may not be as equally proficient in all three of them, though.

I know of people that refuse to speak one language, but usually is in a different environment than the one you describe. Typically the different language(s) is spoken at home, and the language spoken outside is entirely differently. If the family language is not "well" seen outside, then the child will perceive it as a label and will refuse it in the effort of blending in. Your situation though sounds different. It sounds more like certain parts of India, where several languages are spoken at the time because of the coexistence of different ethnic groups. If the languages are socially equivalent (meaning there are no social differences between the groups that speak the different languages), then children that grow up exposed to all three will accept and speak all three. That's my experience.
It is a very multi-cultural and multi-ethnic situation, BUT the character who thinks her language is so superior wasn't raised there. She was raised in a homogeneous and very racist country. The reason she's fluent in a second language is because it was part of her military training (and she's been working in countries where her first language is rarely used for over twenty years). She can't avoid conversing in her second language most of the time, but I thought she might freak out about others mixing it with her native language.

I should probably add that this is a different character than the one I was talking about up-thread.

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2010, 08:18 AM
Let's not forget that language has numerous layers and a great part of it is cultural (think of all the words that exist in one language but not another).
Yes, that's something I've been taking into consideration from the very beginning. It's doubly difficult in fantasy where the cultures are so different from ours. I sometimes feel that I have to put a few made-up words into dialogue, because they take multiple sentences explain in English, but the culture in question would definitely have a single word for the concept. It messes up the flow of the dialogue to try to explain it in English, so I put the made-up word in the dialogue and explain what it means in narrative, usually with the POV character noting that it doesn't translate into other languages well. :D

I imagine that must get frustrating for multi-lingual people, though.

Brutal Mustang
05-08-2010, 09:19 AM
Is it generally considered rude to speak with someone in a language others in the room don't understand, or was that something unique to your family?

Pretty much, the whole world over. See, people wonder if you're talking about them behind your back. Heck, when I'm at Walmart or the library, I hear Spanish-speaking people make comments about me, like, "Look at that hair!" or "Is she asleep in that aisle?" Of course, they have no idea I understand what they're saying!

frimble3
05-08-2010, 10:59 AM
I bet that's why I could cuss someone out so well in German (in the Czech Republic, but German usually works there). It was a bit of a mask. All my Southern polite words would have competed too much to go off like I did that quickly in English. I didn't even try to be polite first, lol. German's such a great language for cursing!
I have a variant, for what it's worth: I'm a native English-speaking Canadian, with a little high-school French, but my mother was a native Polish-speaker, who knew some German and French, and learned English an as adult. In Polish she was a nice, nun-educated girl, who would never have used bad language. In the English she learned on the factory-floor, she knew lots of swear words. She only ever used bad language in English. I asked her why, once, and she said that in her head, cursing in English didn't count. It didn't sound 'real'.
On another point, for the last 15 years of her life she essentially never spoke Polish, yet when she was coming out of a diabetic coma, all she spoke was Polish, and was right annoyed with us that we were 'pretending' to not understand her. She was increasingly indignant, and utterly convinced that she was talking just fine.
She married a solely English-speaking Canadian, and never taught either of her daughters Polish, because she thought it would be too easy for us to drift into speaking Polish in the house, and leave Dad feeling left out. That would be part of the 'rude to speak a foriegn language in front of people who don't'. A rule that doesn't apparently apply to children, when she and her Polish-speaking women friends would gather and chat in Polish. There's nothing like hearing your name in a sentence, and then laughter from all.

aadams73
05-08-2010, 03:57 PM
Oooh, I'd already been thinking of having two of my characters do this. Awesome to know it's realistic. Thanks!


It's definitely realistic, and apparently funny to watch/listen to. My mother just shakes her head at us.


I bet that's why I could cuss someone out so well in German (in the Czech Republic, but German usually works there). It was a bit of a mask. All my Southern polite words would have competed too much to go off like I did that quickly in English. I didn't even try to be polite first, lol. German's such a great language for cursing!

Exactly. The curse words flow more easily because they don't pack as much punch for us and they're not as ingrained in us as impolite. Also, it's almost like acting in a way: you're you but you're this something else as well. The language definitely adds a new dimension to interaction.

Greek's also great for cursing. Much of it involves sexual violation of religious figures and cavorting with the devil. It's quite creative, really. :D

OneWriter
05-08-2010, 05:01 PM
LOL!!! We swear quite a lot at home, with words that we never used back in Italy, but here.... well, they lost their "bad" connotation since nobody uses them, right? EXCEPT, I got in trouble once.... Well, not really in trouble, but I cursed at work (I must have tripped or something), and my colleague starts laughing out loud. I blush, and he tells me, "My grandparents were Italian."
"Do you speak Italian then?"
"Oh, no. They'd just argue all the time."

Gee, I hope my kids will remember a few other words besides the bad ones....
We are going to Italy in two weeks and we have started a "decontamination" effort, or else my mom will surely burn me alive when she hears them speak.... But it's just hilarious, it's almost cute... For example, my son is about to knock over a glass of juice, and all my husband says is, "Sam!", and glares at him. And the little guy replies (in Italian, small, innocent voice): "Are you asking what the F*** am I doing?"
Man.... I should be ashamed and instead I just find it hilarious!!!!! (of course, had Sam said it in English, I would have jumped out of my socks!!!!)

ETA: Now we have a rule: whenever somebody in the house says a bad word, the others have to reply with a nice word in French... Nothing special about French, it's just that it sounds sweet (whereas German sounds harsh, especially with the accent of some parts, I forget which, where they use many guttural sounds.... oh, it sounds so good to say VERBOTEN!!!!).... so anyways, now you hear a lot of "bon soir", "merci", and "bon jour" in my house.... and teh kids love it, best way ever to teach them words in a different language!!!

Oh, and Chasing: in response to your post #22, yes, in my experience your scenario is perfectly realistic.

Summonere
05-08-2010, 06:18 PM
Oh, I just remembered something. I don't know if other bilingual people have this problem, but my whole bilingual family has it. If we are not being spoken to with clear enunciation, we miss what people are saying. It's not because we are deaf, but I suspect because our brains are thinking of multiple possibilities for each sound spoken. Because of this, we typically watch movies with the subtitles on.

In general, I have a hard time with German when words aren't pronounced the way I'm used to hearing them. And when someone says a word that sounds very much like another, and I know what one means but not the other, I sometimes lose the context for suddenly realizing that what I thought they said isn't what they said at all.

About movies and subtitles...

Watched Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds with one native German speaker and two German-as-second-language speakers. We all experienced the same thing. We could either follow the German or follow the subtitles, but not both at the same time.

pilot27407
05-08-2010, 08:09 PM
I’m a blend. ¼ Russian, ¼ German, ¼ Italian and ¼ Greek…. Born in Romania and moved to the US in ’70. My first wife was Italian, my second Russian and my third Romanian. With my kids I use whatever language they chose. When I cross the border into one of those countries I speak the language of, I automatically make a subconscious switch. As I’m getting older I use English above all, but sometimes I remember expressions in the old languages and get annoyed when I can’t instantly think of the English translation.

Tsu Dho Nimh
05-08-2010, 08:31 PM
How much havoc would it play with this to have people speaking English, German, and French around you all the time? Would this lead to even more mistakes? *sees comedy potential here*

I was a helper in the early days of Head Start ... In one class we had the following:


another aide and me - fluent English/Spanish
teacher - English only
14 5-year olds - Spanish only
1 5-year old - English only
1 5-year old - German only

It was interesting - by the end of the summer the children had it all sorted out. They would speak English or Spanish to the other aide and me, English only to the teacher, Spanish or English to the previously English-only child (whos Spanish went from zero to survival level), Spanish, English and a bit of German to the German-only kid (who was well on his way to tri-lingual, because the parents had a German-speaking home and he was tossed into a Spanglish envorinment)

Among themselves they spoke an unholy bastardization of the three languages because they thought it was fun, - what es das, guten dia, du bist caca .... their own private language.

The humor can come from the "false cognates" - words that have shifted meaning when borrowed or words that accidentally sound alike with wildly different meanings, often vulgar. Make up some if you need them.

Tsu Dho Nimh
05-08-2010, 08:41 PM
Nope. Sometimes it takes me awhile to realize what language I'm thinking/speaking/hearing.

I dined with someone - a very bilingual diplomat's son - at the beginning and again at the end of a lengthy business trip ... I spent 7 weeks working 100% in Spanish, staying in small towns, watching local TV, minimal English. It was the total immersion Berlitz tries to do.

We were having dinner just before I left, chatting about the trip, when he dropped his fork and said, "Good grief, you are speaking Spanish!" He hadn't even noticed - I must have started by saying "Hola" and his brain flipped the switch into Spanish instead of English.

PGK
05-08-2010, 10:24 PM
How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

It depends. It's very easy for me to switch from Greek (my native language) to English, but not the other way around.

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

Mix when needed. I mostly stay with one language, but if I can't think of a word immediately or if there is a better word to describe what I'm saying in the other language then I mix.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

It's more complicated than that. Some things just can't be translated well enough or at all, so when I was in Greece I preferred Greek because many times English couldn't encapsulate my meaning. In America though it's the opposite (though when I'm swearing I still prefer Greek. The filthiness of the profanity in that language is enough to make a sailor blush).

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

I am far more comfortable with English now. In fact, when I'm back in Greece I only speak when I absolutely must because it feels wrong to my tongue and brain to speak in Greek.

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it?

For me it requires daily and constant exposure.

Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it?
Don't know.

How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

Logically I'd say it matter a lot, but in truth I don't know. I learned as a child.

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

For me it's very likely. In fact, I only slip into Greek when I am under stress or angry. If I slam on my brakes and lay into the horn for someone I feel stupid launching into a tirade in English (though most of the time I don't even think about it and I start insulting their mother, sister, religion, sexuality, and any pets in my native Greek).

I'm sure there are tons of other things I haven't thought to ask, so feel free to share whatever you want from your experiences.

I've also developed an accent in my native Greek. I've forgotten many (if not most) of the nuances in the language and my spelling is worse than a 3 year-old (though I used to pride myself on my abilities in Greek orthography). And then there's also dreaming. For my first few years in America I still thought in Greek and translated it in my head before speaking it English, but my dreams were still in Greek. Then one day I realized I was dreaming in English (though my wife swears that whenever I talk in my sleep it's in Greek--thank goodness for that or I'd have plenty of explaining to do when I woke up from a dream about another woman). Lastly there's math. I still do math in Greek. In English I'm horrible at doing even the simplest math, but in Greek I can spit out the answers in rapid fire mode.



I hope this helps.

cbenoi1
05-08-2010, 11:28 PM
How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

None whatsoever.


If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

Whoever initiates the conversation sets the language, unless it becomes ridiculously inefficient or my interlocutor is constantly looking up words.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

It's everyone's mother tongue. Why would I speak a second language at home if not for teaching my kid?


Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

It's a matter of practice. I learned German as a third language fifteen years ago and haven't spoke nor read any significant German in ten years at least.


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

It's like any other human activity. You lose touch after a while. I learned piano as a kid. The only thing I remember now is how to cross thumbs doing scales.


How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

No clue. Never happened to me. When I switch, it's a done deal. I don't do simultaneous translation in my mind. When I speak English, I think in English. When I speak in French, I think in French.

I once knew someone with a French mother and English father. Parents divoced. She'd spend one week at her mother's and one week at her father's. She developped two slightly different personalities along language boundaries.





-cb

Chasing the Horizon
05-09-2010, 12:04 AM
Pretty much, the whole world over. See, people wonder if you're talking about them behind your back. Heck, when I'm at Walmart or the library, I hear Spanish-speaking people make comments about me, like, "Look at that hair!" or "Is she asleep in that aisle?" Of course, they have no idea I understand what they're saying!
Yeah, that makes sense. Definitely going to make use of it in my writing.


There's nothing like hearing your name in a sentence, and then laughter from all.
lol, I can imagine. Kind of makes me glad everyone I know speaks nothing but English. :D


The curse words flow more easily because they don't pack as much punch for us and they're not as ingrained in us as impolite. Also, it's almost like acting in a way: you're you but you're this something else as well. The language definitely adds a new dimension to interaction.
These are the kind of nuances of being multi-lingual that I'm trying to be accurate with. Luckily I'be put a lot more work into the curse vocabulary of my fantasy languages than any other part. :D


We were having dinner just before I left, chatting about the trip, when he dropped his fork and said, "Good grief, you are speaking Spanish!" He hadn't even noticed - I must have started by saying "Hola" and his brain flipped the switch into Spanish instead of English.
Hmmm. I know English and Spanish are fairly similar languages. Would this be as likely to happen if the two languages involved were extremely different (say Chinese and English)?


I hope this helps.
Yes, all the answers are very helpful, because everyone's experiences are different and it all gives me more ideas.

The only thing I know first-hand about language is that it's basically impossible to learn another language when you're completely inundated by your native language and no-one else speaks what you're trying to learn. *sigh*

GeorgeK
05-09-2010, 08:48 PM
I didn't realize the extent of it until someone in college asked to look at my notes and exclaimed "WTF is this!" and then I looked at it objectively and suddenly realized that it was a mix of English, German, Latin, Greek and Russian. It at least made sense to me...

For me I pretty much forgot the other languages about 10 years after no longer needing them

Nadia
05-09-2010, 09:19 PM
It doesn't matter which languages, because this is for a fantasy book and I'm just interested in what it's like to be bilingual/trilingual.

How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

None at all for me.

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

We pick whichever is the most comfortable. For example, I'm okay w/ two languages, but some people may prefer one or the other.

But on certain topics, I prefer English (like finance b/c I was educated in the States, and so I don't know the industry specific lingo for it in my other language), so in that case, it's going to be mostly English.

If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

You favor the language of the country in which you live, generally speaking that is.

Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

This is possible if you learned it as a teenager and fully immersed in your 2nd for a LONG time, and possibly educated in that language.

Adult....? Maybe not. I've seen professional translators who picked up their 2nd or 3rd as adults, and they favor their 1st language.

How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

Constantly. If you don't read or talk current topics, etc. your slang, etc. will become outdated, so people will know that you're not fully native and/or somehow foreign, even if you're speaking in your 1st language. Also you WILL lose your ability to write if you don't write much, even if you can fully understand the language and can read very well.

I'm not sure if it makes a difference when you learned it. What matters is how fluent you were, IMHO.

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

That depends on their mastery of the 2nd language and how much they use their 1st. I dream in my 1st & 2nd, can think in both back and forth w/o any problem, and read both no problem, though I can read in my 1st faster than 2nd. But I write better in my 2nd than 1st.

GeorgeK
05-09-2010, 09:40 PM
You know that you "get" a language when you start dreaming it in.

backslashbaby
05-09-2010, 09:50 PM
That is a good measure, I think. I've never dreamed fully in German (my worst), only in French after going there (studied for years before that), and Spanish pretty early and more regularly (learned since childhood).

Interestingly (I think), I still dream in Spanish yet I'm so rusty in it in real life!

GeorgeK
05-09-2010, 11:13 PM
ething else as well. The language definitely adds a new dimension to interaction.

Greek's also great for cursing. Much of it involves sexual violation of religious figures and cavorting with the devil. It's quite creative, really. :D

Interesting... In college this guy who shall remain nameless would curse supposedly in Greek. I grant that modern Greek is different than the 5th century BC Athenian Greek that I studied, but I looked it up once and he was calling people "Duck Blood". Now, maybe his pronunciation was off, you know, being American and not actually Greek, but still it gave me a "wtf" moment. I'm not sure how that's related to the topic, but...

Nadia
05-10-2010, 12:02 AM
Different cultures have different taboos, etc. so their cuss words tend to reflect them. :-)

AnnieColleen
05-10-2010, 12:20 AM
I'm not bilingual, but several of my co-workers are (English/Spanish), and will jump between languages mid-sentence when talking to each other -- very disconcerting to overhear a few words I can follow and then back into (to my ear) nonsense. (I can pick out a little Spanish, but not enough or quickly enough to follow conversations.)

One thing I've seen is children choosing which language to respond to questions in based on where/which language they learned that concept in...so, e.g., everyday verbs (eat, sleep, drink, etc.) would be in Spanish, but words learned/used in school (colors, numbers, whatever) would be in English.

Also an anecdote from a discussion elsewhere: a family where the mother spoke one language to the child and the father spoke another (though both were fluent in both) -- child didn't believe mom could understand dad's language and vice versa, so would translate between them!

blackrose602
05-10-2010, 01:07 AM
My experiences may or may not be helpful, but do speak to the idea of having several native languages going at once. I studied French in high school, never became entirely fluent but was reasonably comfortable. In college I switched to American Sign Language and underwent immersion via working on a deaf ward at a local kids' mental health facility. I'm pretty fluent in that.

I then spent a year as assistant director for an after-school/summer program for children of newly immigrated Dept of Agriculture workers. We had primarily Spanish-speaking children who knew some rudimentary English. We also had a Haitian Creole family who spoke solely French--except for the youngest, who was Deaf. He spoke French Sign Language, but nobody in his family had ever bothered to learn.

Fortunately ASL is based on French Sign Language, so the other assistant and I were able to communicate with him. None of the three adults knew Spanish when we started, but we learned quick--especially the swear words the kids regularly threw at us. The kids wanted to communicate with the Deaf boy, so we taught a unit on sign language.

By the end of that year, we were all speaking a strange blend of English, Spanish and French, and translating as we went into sign language. I swear, we must have invented a new language that year! Among ourselves, the adults generally preferred English, but we often switched without thinking about it.

I also spent a year living at an international youth hostel. We had visitors from all over the world, with varying levels of English skills. Invariably, when two people would meet, they would speak English to each other, even if they happened to have the same first language. As people got more comfortable with each other, more languages were used. Sometimes the hostel sounded like the Tower of Babel. It's interesting that some people have mentioned the rudeness of speaking in a language that not everyone present knows. It makes sense, yet that's outside of my personal experiences. I guess like most things in life, it depends on the situation.

I remained most comfortable with English, but knew enough French/Spanish and picked up enough German, Italian, Czech and Russian to be able to communicate. And thanks to late night parties, I now know how to give a toast in virtually every major language and how to curse someone out in half of those.

JustLooking
05-10-2010, 01:37 PM
I’ve really enjoyed reading this thread. I find all these insights fascinating. You probably have plenty of info already but I couldn’t resist assembling a few random anecdotes of my own anyway, just for fun :).

-- My German was lousy when I first came to live in Germany, but I still dreamt in German and had to ask my husband in the morning what some of the words I’d dreamt meant!

-- After we’d been living here a few years (when I'd become much more fluent) we invested in a DVD player so we could watch films in English. I’d put on my first film and was happily watching it when my husband came into the room.
“I thought we’d bought that so you could watch in English,” says he.
“Yes. So?” says me.
“So... why are you watching in German, then?” asks he.
Oops. I hadn’t noticed.

-- My kids are bilingual. They were brought up speaking English in the home but go to German schools, which I think has made their German vocabulary greater than their English. One daughter reads extensively and has picked up a lot of (English) words which she understands written down but sometimes mispronounces if she tries to use them in speech. Unkind people have been known to laugh at her for that, which can be upsetting.

-- When my children were smaller we would all switch to speaking German if they had friends round to play, so that the friends weren’t left out of any conversation. Now they are all learning English in school, and their parents often ask us to speak English in front of them so they can practise. Both the German kids and my own kids will usually answer me in German, though. Oh, and if my older daughter has to speak to me on the telephone for any reason she will also only speak German. But she texts me in English:e2shrug:.

-- When my kids started learning English in school they picked up a new language: “School English.” In class, so as not to stand out from the crowd, they would speak how their teacher and classmates did, complete with mistakes and German accent. I’ve met a couple of other English parents whose kids did the same thing.

-- Last year my daughters went on a riding holiday together. They spoke German to each other and everyone else in the group, and no-one realised they weren’t German. Until a day came when they had an argument. All heads turned as they suddenly started rowing with each other in English.

-- My children all talk in their sleep. What you can decipher is usually German.

-- Amongst ourselves, we still speak mainly English at home. But occasionally, if someone wants to relate a particular incident from the day, they have to do it in German – “because it happened in German.” Similarly, I met a Finnish girl on a summer camp years ago who kept her personal diary of the week in English, even though that was her 4th (!) language, because “everything was happening in English”.

I could go on, but that’s probably more than enough!

aadams73
05-10-2010, 04:19 PM
Interesting... In college this guy who shall remain nameless would curse supposedly in Greek. I grant that modern Greek is different than the 5th century BC Athenian Greek that I studied, but I looked it up once and he was calling people "Duck Blood". Now, maybe his pronunciation was off, you know, being American and not actually Greek, but still it gave me a "wtf" moment. I'm not sure how that's related to the topic, but...

I've never heard that one before. I'll have to ask around, because now I'm curious. And yes, ancient Greek is vastly different to modern. Ancient Greek really is all Greek to me. :D



-- When my kids started learning English in school they picked up a new language: “School English.” In class, so as not to stand out from the crowd, they would speak how their teacher and classmates did, complete with mistakes and German accent. I’ve met a couple of other English parents whose kids did the same thing.


Holy hell, I used to do the same thing. I'm laughing now that I think about it. It's funny what kids do to maintain their coolness.

During English tests my teacher would automatically give me a 20/20. When my best friend and I compared results one time, we discovered that we'd both made the same mistake and yet she'd been penalized for it while I had not. We went round and round with the teacher, but in the end she did the right thing and took that one point from me. :)

backslashbaby
05-10-2010, 08:45 PM
Oooh, another interesting thing I've seen...

I've known a few people who are totally fluent in a foreign language spoken at home (mom was French or German), but they are illiterate in it. So they were taking the kind of 'intro' courses to learn how to write what they already speak.

Summonere
05-10-2010, 08:55 PM
Oooh, another interesting thing I've seen...

I've known a few people who are totally fluent in a foreign language spoken at home (mom was French or German), but they are illiterate in it. So they were taking the kind of 'intro' courses to learn how to write what they already speak.

Friend of mine did that. She grew up in a German/English bi-lingual household here in the U.S., but she never learned to read or write German while growing up. Consequently, as an adult, the attempt gave her fits of frustration.

In my case, I was a better reader/writer in German than a speaker. Nowadays, I suspect that all has changed ... for the worse. The first things to go were definite articles, followed by grammar, followed by vocabulary.

PGK
05-10-2010, 09:25 PM
Interesting... In college this guy who shall remain nameless would curse supposedly in Greek. I grant that modern Greek is different than the 5th century BC Athenian Greek that I studied, but I looked it up once and he was calling people "Duck Blood". Now, maybe his pronunciation was off, you know, being American and not actually Greek, but still it gave me a "wtf" moment. I'm not sure how that's related to the topic, but...


Duck Blood is not a cuss in Modern, "Old" (Katharevousa), or Ancient Greek. It's possible he didn't know what he was saying, but it's also possible the translator (especially internet) got it wrong. I swear Greek is the most horrifically translated language in the world.

Most modern Greek profanity involves genitalia, sexual orientation, religion, family, animalism, and any mixture of all of the above (oh, and prostitution).

e.g.
"To mouni tis manas sou."
"Gamw tin Panagia sou."
"Skyla."
"Poutana."
"Aderfi."

Interestingly there is one profane word "malaka" which describes an act of masturbation (or calling someone a masturbator) which has also found its way into becoming a term of "endearment" amongst friends (especially younger generation).

In Katharevousa profanity revolved around animals, political orientation, and intellect (though some other terms were used similarly to Modern Greek, but very rarely).

In Ancient Greek profanity centered on national origin and social status. Being called a Barbarian was offensive. So was "Persian." "Dog" was also offensive, but it was used as means towards indicating some of the above. The gods were invoked as a curse, but not as profanity. Lastly, a man's bravery or cowardice, and his femininity were also used in the "lesser" classes of society.

But Duck Blood, no; never.

aadams73
05-10-2010, 09:47 PM
e.g.
"To mouni tis manas sou."
"Gamw tin Panagia sou."
"Skyla."


I can't stop laughing... I've heard all of these in serious rotation lately. My aunt is particularly fond of the first. That and she loves calling people "mounaki," which cracks me up.

As for skyla (female dog), my mother (who speaks almost no Greek) once ordered a load of them, when what she meant to ask for was ksyla (wood).

We've never let her live that down. :D



Interestingly there is one profane word "malaka" which describes an act of masturbation (or calling someone a masturbator) which has also found its way into becoming a term of "endearment" amongst friends (especially younger generation).


Oh yeah, you hear that everywhere. It's a multigenerational term of endearment in my family.

And then there are the hand gestures. And the ass-pinching.

JustLooking
05-10-2010, 09:55 PM
Holy hell, I used to do the same thing. I'm laughing now that I think about it. It's funny what kids do to maintain their coolness.

During English tests my teacher would automatically give me a 20/20. When my best friend and I compared results one time, we discovered that we'd both made the same mistake and yet she'd been penalized for it while I had not. We went round and round with the teacher, but in the end she did the right thing and took that one point from me. :)

How funny. Sounds like it might be quite a common phenomenon.
My children have had similar experiences in school tests, too. I’m not sure they’re always as honest about it as you were! It gets interesting when they give an answer which is correct, but not what the teacher was looking for. Most teachers will give the point anyway, but we’ve had one or two who won’t credit the answer “because we haven’t covered that in class yet”.


Oooh, another interesting thing I've seen...

I've known a few people who are totally fluent in a foreign language spoken at home (mom was French or German), but they are illiterate in it. So they were taking the kind of 'intro' courses to learn how to write what they already speak.

Yes, I’ve heard about that happening, too. A very weird thing with our older daughter, though, was that as soon as she was able to read and write German, she could automatically read and write English as well. She didn’t even have too much trouble with British spelling. I’d read stories to her from her earliest childhood but had never actually tried to teach her to read and write myself. Weirder still: German elementary schools where I live have a rigid system for teaching handwriting so that everyone’s looks the same. My daughter learnt that too, but as soon as she got to secondary school she lapsed into a really English-looking style of writing that she’d never been taught.




In my case, I was a better reader/writer in German than a speaker. Nowadays, I suspect that all has changed ... for the worse. The first things to go were definite articles, followed by grammar, followed by vocabulary.

German definite articles are the bane of my life :(

CurranCR
05-15-2010, 04:55 PM
I speak English, Italian and Spanish. I learned Spanish as a teenager, and Italian as an adult (I've lived in Italy for 12 years).



How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

I like to stick to one language when speaking, but I will sometimes use a word in other language, if that word doesn't exist in the language I'm speaking in. I don't usually mix languages within a sentence, otherwise.



If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

I try to stick to one language, depending on the language level of who I'm speaking with (For example, if my Italian friend's English is weaker than my Italian, I prefer to speak Italian. I have one friend here who speaks good English - probably the same level as my Italian. So we sometimes speak in English. With him, the conversation is generally in one language or the other, though. Not both.)



Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

I'm comfortable with Italian and can speak it for hours (watch a film in Italian, etc.) But I think I will always favor English.


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

I think it may depend when you learned the language. I have lost a lot of my Spanish, because I don't use it now. But I like to think it would come back quickly.


How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

I think it's possible, though I generally don't do it. But if I'm stressed, my Italian is less fluid.

Hope this helps. Good questions.

Caroline

Chasing the Horizon
05-16-2010, 12:12 AM
Thanks again for all the answers.

I recently had a first-hand experience with how insidious language can be. I've been reading a ton of British books (not on purpose, it just worked out that way) and talking to a lot of British people online, and my mom pointed out to me that I've started using British words that aren't used in America (like 'row' for fight). I didn't even think about it, lol. My writing is even more infested with British-isms than my speech (and always has been, probably because I've always read a lot of British books). Anyway, I know British is still English, but it's funny how you pick up words without really thinking about it.

backslashbaby
05-16-2010, 05:00 AM
LOL! I did a British degree recently. I got to the point (here, back in the US) where I said dreamed and corrected myself to 'dreamt,' apologizing to folks for using bad grammar!

CurranCR
05-16-2010, 05:20 PM
I've also had the experience of using British expressions in the US, and being teased for it. I've been working with British teachers here and I've picked up a lot of their expressions.

When I went back to the US last summer my younger sister told me:

* we don't go to the CINEMA to see a FILM
* it's soccer, not football
* no one says trousers

She jokes that it's her mission to correct my "bad English".

Caroline

aruna
10-22-2010, 05:57 PM
-- When my kids started learning English in school they picked up a new language: “School English.” In class, so as not to stand out from the crowd, they would speak how their teacher and classmates did, complete with mistakes and German accent. I’ve met a couple of other English parents whose kids did the same thing.



Sorry to be so late to this thread; only just found it! To the above, I wanted to add that my son was the opposite: he insisted on speaking and writing English correctly, the way he had learned it in school in England, and refused to "Germanify" it; and even argued with his teacher on certain points. He's very hotheaded, and he was right; but always got penalised for it. It was very frustrating tp see him, who had always been bi-lingual and already spoke and wrote English, get worse marks than German pupils who were just beginning to learn English, and were learning wrong pronounciation. But "that's the way it's done", and that was that.

Raindrop
10-22-2010, 07:49 PM
Arghhh, I'm late too. May I play anyway? :D


How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?
Easily, and no, it's not a conscious effort.
Although when I hold a conversation with, say, my partner (native English speaker), my mother (French) and my grandmother (French and dialectal German), I sometimes mix up my languages and talk to my partner in French, and my mother and granny in English. It gets confusing.

Sometimes ideas simply don't translate. So I use the odd English word in the middle of a French sentence, or translate an Alsacian saying word-to-word. That, even though Alsacian is far from my first language. But we do that a lot over here.
Example: sa isch nìt gànz g'bàcht => she isn't quite cooked (meaning: the brainz, they are a bit weak)

I have a habit of messing up syllables in words. A very mild case of dysphasia, if you want. It gives funny results when I think in one language, mis-"think" the word, then translate it into another one.
That's how we got into the habit of dressing up a Christmas Rabbit every year. (Because I mis-"thought" sapin [tree] as lapin [rabbit].)


If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?It would depend on the level of fluency, but also on where we are. It's hard to tell. My friends who speak dialect as their first language tend to talk to me in French.



Missed that by a generation. By the time I was born, our dialect had been outlawed for so long my mother never thought of speaking it with me. So, I don't know.

[QUOTE]Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?
Yes. I'm just as comfortable in English as I am in French. I actually find reading easier in English. I started learning it at a basic level when I was 14, and became fluent at 26-27.


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?Dunno.


How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?I say "Attention" (beware) in French. I say "Help me" in English. I slip accidentally when I'm tired, whether in English or in French.

The way I think is in between, half French, half English, with the odd word of dialect thrown in when appropriate. It's fun.
I can only write fiction in English.

whimsical rabbit
10-22-2010, 10:41 PM
I'm not really bilingual. I'm Greek and started learning English when I was 6 or something, have been living in the UK for eight years now and also doing a PhD in English/CW so you can say I'm a quarter to bilingual really. :tongue I also speak Spanish, French, and pretend to speak German (when in reality I can only say wine and sausage, which means at least I won't starve if I ever visit Germany).

On to your questions:


How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?

Pretty easy, but it also happens that I use English words and phrases when I speak in Greek, while the opposite doesn't happen that much. It really has to do with where you are most of the time. And no, it doesn't require too much thought, unless your brain is mash. That said, I speak all four languages fluently when I'm wasted. I think it's got to do with the fact that I loosen up.:)

If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?

Not sure if that counts, but my husband is also Greek, has been in the UK for eight years and doing a PhD in screenwriting himself, and when we speak Greek at home we both use dispersed English words and phrases always.


If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?

N/A


Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?

When you say 'comfortable', do you mean in terms of ease, or preference? I think your mother tongue/the language of the country you reside in is always the one you'll speak without conscious effort for obvious reasons. But in terms of being in love with the language, it doesn't matter. I have a thing for Spanish I have with no other language, and prefer to speak it over the others whenever I get the chance.


How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?

You need to use it constantly. Nothing will help you more than living in the respective country, or at least converse with natives. Reading helps immensely, as does listening to music, and watching films. I managed to reach an almost professional (although by far not academic) level in Spanish just by using these methods.

A lot of people will tell you that it's easier to learn a language when you start as a child. Personally, I say it doesn't matter. I started learning French at the age of 12, and Spanish at 22. I speak better Spanish than French because I speak and listen to them more frequently.

That said, nothing beats my English. My mum used to be an English teacher so I started learning the language almost at the same age I started school.

How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?

Very likely. Very, very likely.


I'm sure there are tons of other things I haven't thought to ask, so feel free to share whatever you want from your experiences.

Will give it a good thought and maybe come back to you. :)

lastlittlebird
10-22-2010, 11:26 PM
I thought I'd add a couple of my experiences here as well. I learned some French in high school, coasted through really, then failed my final year.
Then when I was 22 I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Mali, which is a French speaking country. I wasn't in a big city, and there were hundreds of African languages/dialects in my area, as well as different levels of French and English. (in the big city, people were much more likely to speak correct French, because French was taught in school, usually not at home)
So, I ended up learning a strange mixture of bastardized French. I was quite lazy about it, to tell you the truth, so while I could slip into it easily, and communicate perfectly well, I'm not sure I would call myself fluent. It's amazing how much you can communicate with just a handful of words.

Among the other volunteers, we would speak mostly English, but whenever there was a French or African word which suited or sounded better, we would use that. I still have to stop myself from using those words, even 5 years later, with people who don't know them.

Some of us volunteers hated speaking in English in front of people who couldn't understand, some didn't mind. We did all do it at one time or another... there were just too many different local languages and there was no guarantee we'd have one in common. Although some of the volunteers soaked up languages like a sponge and could switch between 2-3 of them with ease, for example in a market. Some of the locals minded if we spoke in English in front of them, some didn't. I have to admit we were a bit snobbish about it sometimes.


Even among people who were used to a lot of languages, there was some prejudice against certain ones. Like, I was living in a Dogon region, and when I told people that (when visiting another region) they almost always made fun of the Dogon greetings. I'm not sure if they thought it was inferior, but they definately thought it was funny.

I found that attitude rather than being fluent was the most important thing. At first I was muttering and hesitant, because I knew I would get things wrong, and people never understood me. Eventually I became much more confident, and could spit out poorly worded phrases by the dozen, and was understood almost every time. In fact, at one point the people at my friend's village thought I spoke better French than he did, even though he really was fluent.

What else can I tell you? I haven't had much practise since I got back, but I still occasionally dream vividly in French and even sometimes in Bambara which was the language I knew the most after French. I'm almost always in Africa in the dream though. I suspect it's my mind trying to make sure I don't lose it entirely!

Every time I have a chance to speak to someone in French I seem to do OK... my tongue remembers quicker than my mind does, I think.
I have to say though, maybe it's because I never became fully fluent, I never really thought much in French... I'd just spit out the words without thinking much about them. When I thought, while speaking French, it would mostly be in English. But then, I don't really consciously think all that much while talking (I know, haha, right?), not like forming the words in my head. If that makes sense.

Oh and I thought you might like this excerpt about languages and why some of them are actually (measurably) "better" than others in certain areas.
http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/outliers_excerpt3.html

LBlankenship
10-22-2010, 11:31 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chasing the Horizon http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=4935579#post4935579)
Is it generally considered rude to speak with someone in a language others in the room don't understand, or was that something unique to your family?

Pretty much, the whole world over. See, people wonder if you're talking about them behind your back. Heck, when I'm at Walmart or the library, I hear Spanish-speaking people make comments about me, like, "Look at that hair!" or "Is she asleep in that aisle?" Of course, they have no idea I understand what they're saying!

LOL. Or maybe "snerk". My in-laws lapse in to Portuguese all the time, when I'm around. Then again, I'm not the sort of person who is a big "presence" in a room.

OTOH, most of the things they talk about are not particularly interesting. If they want to criticise me and can't do it to my face, I can't be bothered to worry about it.

DrZoidberg
10-26-2010, 02:35 PM
It doesn't matter which languages, because this is for a fantasy book and I'm just interested in what it's like to be bilingual/trilingual.

How easy is it to switch from one language to another while you're speaking? Does it require much conscious thought?


When me and my sister speak to each other we can switch languages several times mid sentence. It requires almost no conscious thought.



If you're having a conversation with someone who speaks the same two languages you do, do you mix them together or choose one and stick to it?


This is very common in Sweden. It's pretty arbitrary. I've been in groups of 15+ people switch instantly from English to Swedish when somebody can't think of a word. Maybe it's an engineering thing?



If you're raised in a bilingual household, do you come to favor one language over the other?


Yes, English. But only because it's a bigger language. I have no emotional preferences.



Can you become as comfortable (or maybe even more comfortable) with a language you learn as a teenager or adult, or will you always deeply favor your first language?


I have two first languages. I'll probably always favour English because it's the world's biggest language. I put a premium on ability to communicate. English will most likely always win no matter how many more languages I learn.



How much do you need to use a language to remain fluent after you've learned it? Does reading in it keep you as fluent as conversing in it? How does this answer change depending on whether you learned the language as a child or adult?


I've always used both languages, so I've never lost fluency.



How likely is it for someone to 'slip' into their first language accidentally when they're under stress?


I prefer swearing in English, but that's just because Swedish culture is a more crude/less polite. So a Swedish swearword never has quite the same punch.

chicklit
11-01-2010, 06:42 PM
IMHO, these answers depend largely on where you live (native country or abroad) and which language is used more often. I am fluent in 2 and nearly fluent in 2 others and not one of the languages are related. This makes it more difficult to switch naturally between, say, Czech and English than it would be to switch between related languages like Polish and Czech or Italian and Spanish. If you live abroad and speak a foreign language more often than your own this will very, very often affect your native grammar if the languages are hugely different in structure. Not only that, you will start to "lose" words over time if the foreign expressions better suit your needs. It's not that I don't remember certain English expressions anymore, it's more that my brain views them as obsolete and waste of breath because there are far more succinct ways of putting it in another language.

Another issue is accent. When one is speaking their native English language in a foreign country where the natives tend to speak English with heavy accents, you will often start to speak English with that same accent yourself when speaking to those people (you wouldn't do this when speaking with native English speakers, obviously!) out of a habit that arose to be sure they could understand you. This is where the grammar mistakes come in as well; you can start using them unknowingly over time, and eventually not even be sure which was the correct way in some cases, LOL.

Fortunately, my written English hasn't been affected by all these years living abroad, but I have to admit my spoken English can go wonky at times! :)