A few friends and I have a reading group that meets every other week to try out cool topics and random stuff. Our current miniproject is learning Spanish (everyone else has at least some Spanish language background; I’m the only one starting from scratch), with the intent of coming back together to analyze what sorts of resources and techniques worked well for us, and what sorts of strategies different people used. The intent is not to learn Spanish particularly well; two weeks isn’t enough for that, but it is long enough to get a window into how you learn it.
We are supposed to try to do something towards language-learning every day. Today is Day 3. I have been extremely unsuccessful, mostly because something interesting has come up: it seems that my brain lumps languages into a couple categories.
- Fookien (my family’s Chinese dialect)
- Everything else
It’s pretty obvious why – English is my native tongue, and I learned rudimentary Fookien from birth to toddlerhood (when my parents decided they should stop speaking everything but English to me so that I would “learn English properly”). I still hear Fookien frequently today when I’m with family, so I’m used to sorting between English – which I’m used to hearing and understanding – and Fookien, which I’m used to hearing and not understanding. Not a problem there.
I learned ASL in middle childhood, and it’s physical rather than verbal, and thus easily separable. But the rest – Japanese, Mandarin, Tagalog, German, Spanish – they get tagged with OH HEY LOOK A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Meaning I produce exchanges like this when attempting to talk to myself while walking down the street (for practice):
“Buenos dias. Kumusta ka? Sehr gut, danke.” (Which is “Good day” in Spanish, followed by “How are you?” in Tagalog and a reply of “Very good, thanks” in German.)
This was not intentional; it came out almost without me realizing it, and then I went “wait WHAT?” and slapped my forehead. I was actually trying to speak Spanish the entire time. But some words come more easily to me in some languages than others, so I think my brain goes “oh, you’re trying to speak Some Other Language!” and out comes the first word in something-that-isn’t-English-or-Fookien it finds.
This has happened before – I baffled my Mandarin teacher by occasionally reading the Japanese pronunciations of the characters in the text I was reciting, and now I do the opposite (I’ll look at Japanese text and hear the occasional character in Mandarin). Sometimes, at Kaffeestunde (German Coffee Hour) at Purdue, I need to bite my tongue to keep from inserting a Japanese word into a German sentence — because I know the word in Japanese, but not in German.
I’m absolutely nowhere near fluent in any of these other languages. At best, I’m beginning-to-intermediate in ASL, somewhere around mid-second-semester college-level in German, and able to converse brokenly with my relatives in Mandarin. But I’m far better at all of them than in Spanish, so when I try to say something in Spanish, it’s way easier to say it in something else that isn’t English, so I do.
Not sure how to get past this problem yet; I think that working on processing Spanish input for a while (say, this week) rather than producing output might help — listening and reading first, not speaking and writing. So… we’ll see if that helps. In the meantime, this is terribly amusing.