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Spanish but Don't Think

 
 
Roberta
 
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 06:53 am
When I got into the elevator yesterday, there was a young woman already there. She smiled and started speaking to me in Spanish. I understood what she said and responded in Spanish. While she was saying something else, I thought about the fact that I was speaking Spanish without trying. The minute I thought that, the facility was gone. I struggled and ended up speaking pidgen Spanish, trying to explain that I used to be able to speak Spanish but I forgot most of it.

The situation surprised me. I studied Spanish for seven years. I could read it fluently and understand it quite well. I was never entirely comfortable with speaking it, but I could do it.

I thought that I had forgotten almost everything. I haven't used the language in years. Every now and then a Spanish expression pops out or comes to mind, but mostly I'm unilingual.

I have to assume that the language skills I learned are still in my head. How else could I have understood and responded? It was automatic and gone the instant I thought about it.

Language is strange. How spontaneous it is. How vital it is. I was unaware that it was floating around in my head--untapped but there. If someone had asked me whether I could speak Spanish, I would have said, "Not anymore." I would have been wrong.

How did this happen? How does this work?
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contrex
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 09:46 am
Language learning can pop up years later. I am a native English speaker, I started learning French at the age of 10, (45 years ago) and believe me, when I am talking to French speakers, stuff comes out that I forgot I knew! When the situation calls for it, it is there. It's like riding a bicycle. When you forget to think about it, it gets a lot easier.
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Noddy24
 
  2  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 01:34 pm
Roberta--

Some people's reflexes are limited to "Flight or Fight".

Your reflexes are obviously more complicated.

I bet your cerebral speech centers bulge.
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FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 01:43 pm
Language is a fascinating thing.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 03:08 pm
contrex, So it's always there, like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Like some kind of muscle memory. Do you think this applies to other "forgotten" things we've learned? Or is it specific to language?

Noddy, So you think I've got bulgy speech centers? You may be right. Once I started struggling to speak Spanish, Italian popped out. Shocked Another bulge.

Freeduck, Couldn't agree more. Language is an amazing thing. You say something. I respond--instantly. How does that happen?
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Tai Chi
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 03:26 pm
Roberta, Boomerang had a related thread here:

http://www.able2know.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=90706&start=0&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=

Trying to remember a second language is one of my "brain flab" issues.
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contrex
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 03:32 pm
Roberta wrote:
contrex, So it's always there, like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Like some kind of muscle memory. Do you think this applies to other "forgotten" things we've learned? Or is it specific to language?


Swimming is a thing that you never forget, I think.

Quote:
Once I started struggling to speak Spanish, Italian popped out.


My partner and I beginner's Italian classes about 7 years ago, she took an intermediate course after that. She is gifted at languages. Now she is studying Spanish, and she says the same as you! If she cannot "find" the Spanish word or phrase, often the Italian will try to take its place.

Those two languages, Spanish and Italian, may seem very similar to English speakers, who may think that Spanish and Italians might "kind of" understand each other. I know I wondered about that.

It seems this is not so! It's rather like speakers of Latin languages imagining that English and German speakers can understand each other, because to them, those two tongues seem very similar.
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Noddy24
 
  2  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 04:33 pm
I've mastered English--but only English.

Even in English you can develop verbal reflexes.

Several years ago I was browsing in a second hand bookstore and noticed that a young mother was trying to find some books and keep one eye on her 18 month twins in a double stroller.

The little boy was rather torpid. His sister was an old-fashioned, hell-raising little blister--not naughty just bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and loaded for bear.

She almost managed to stand up on the seat of the stroller and without thinking I roared, "I said Four on the Floor, did you hear me?" The little charmer sat right back down and I apologized profusely to her mother who was enchanted that her daughter did understand about sitting in a stroller.

Motherhood with a double stroller, scars the soul.
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CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 05:47 pm
Children learn languages quite differently than adults do, and it's much
easier for them. I guess, once you start translating the foreign words
into your own language then things become more difficult. You'll retain
the foreign language but there seems to be a barrier that prevents you
from speaking fluently, if the language isn't practiced daily.

When I am really tired , I sometimes have German words slip into
the conversation without me noticing it.
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CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 05:50 pm
Noddy24 wrote:
....., "I said Four on the Floor, did you hear me?" The little charmer sat right back down and I apologized profusely to her mother who was enchanted that her daughter did understand about sitting in a stroller.


That's cute, Noddy. Aren't we all tempted at times to dicipline the little
monsters of other mothers? I wish I had the guts.
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Quincy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 May, 2007 07:46 pm
I have been taught Afrikaans (closely related to Dutch) for 12yrs, almost everyone around me speaks it, and yet I can not. I never have Afrikaans slip out my mouth- I guess I am Linguistically challenged? My englaish is evens no so goood, no?
Oh, to be gifted with many tongues like the rest of you....
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 12:06 am
Thanks for the link, Tai. Don't know if I consider other languages to be a brain flab issue for me, although Noddy did refer to a bulge in my cerebral speech center. Not sure that's the same thing.

contrex, I studied enough of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian) to know that the differences are significant. But when it comes to constructing some words, there's a definite Spanish-Italian link. I was attempting to say "studied" in Spanish (estudiado). It came out of my mouth as studiato ("studied" in Italian). Go figure.

Noddy, Verbal reflexes. Sometimes stuff just pops out--in any language.

Jane, I'm occasionally surprised when a language other than English pops out of my mouth. I usually don't know it's going to happen. I was giving my cat a pill. I picked him up, and as I tried to pry is mouth open I said, "Abra la boca." (Open your mouth.) Where did that come from? I agree that children have a much easier time learning a language. I suspect that the parts of their brains that are language centers are more available. Do I know? No. I also agree that it's very hard to learn a language when you translate. This is an unnatural approach, I think. Cumbersome and hard to overcome.

Quincy, Some people struggle; others don't. I don't know why. My mother failed French. Again and again. I studied French for fun. She thought I was deranged.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 01:05 am
Re: Spanish but Don't Think
Roberta wrote:
How did this happen? How does this work?


I think one of the biggest impediments to speaking a foreign language is over thinking it. You end up trying to translate and there is a "block" or tentativeness of some sort that gets in the way.

When I used to do immersion courses I was always amazed at how quickly they improved and how little it had to do with what they learned in the immersion. They usually didn't learn as much as they "let go" and started speaking.

One thing I notice in every country I've been is that people claim they speak better English (as a second language) when they are drunk and I think it's related in that it prevents them from thinking about it too much.
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contrex
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 03:36 am
When I go from France to England, for about a week, if I bump into someone in a crowded place, I find myself saying "Pardon, monsieur" (or madame). I get the gender right, but the language wrong.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 03:57 am
I think you're right, Craven (what else is new?). My experience in the elevator showed me that I could speak when I didn't think about it. The question is, aside from boozing it up, how can we learn not to think?

I was able to read without thinking. No translation. I could listen and understand without thinking. (I attended Spanish theater.) I could even write without thinking (much). But speaking was always a challenge. How can we force ourselves to just do it? How do you learn that?

contrex, Glad to know your ability to determine gender seems unaffected by language. (Sorry. Your comment made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that.) It can't come as a surprise that you would slip into French. You're surrounded by it and living it daily.

I sometimes wonder about about the spontaneity of speech. How is it possible to hear and respond instantly? Even in our native language. How do we do it?
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contrex
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 04:07 am
Roberta wrote:
The question is, aside from boozing it up, how can we learn not to think?


I'd be rich if I could answer that. Seriously, yoga, meditation, relaxation exercises, all have a part to play, I'm sure. It's what Buddhists try to do, I believe.

Life throws up lots of instances of "speaking without thinking". People "blurt things out", sometimes, don't they? To blurt out a foreign language, there's something to aim for?
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 04:13 am
Roberta wrote:
The question is, aside from boozing it up, how can we learn not to think?


Immersion. I never learn much of a language from trying to study it, but within days and weeks I can speak a language if I'm immersed in it.

I used to take my English students to a beach house in a group and disallow anything other than English to be spoken. Even just over a weekend a lot of people broke through.

When you have to speak to get by you start to let go.

Quote:
I was able to read without thinking. No translation. I could listen and understand without thinking. (I attended Spanish theater.)


These activities rely on passive vocabulary. You have to remember meanings when given the words and don't have to worry about sentence structure etc.

Quote:
I could even write without thinking (much).


Hmm, this is active vocabulary..

Quote:
But speaking was always a challenge. How can we force ourselves to just do it? How do you learn that?


It sounds like it may be an issue with speed, speaking requires greater fluency than writing mainly in the speed and first-pass accuracy the speaker can muster. But it also might be language inhibitions.

Either way I think immersion is the key.
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contrex
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 05:07 am
I agree that immersion is the key. As long as you are thinking,"This is special foreign speech I am doing", "How do I get this right", or "How I do avoid looking stupid?", etc, that will hold you back. When you start thinking, "I want that loaf of bread", or "I'll ask for some more wine", that's how it goes.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 08:02 am
I have this with ASL, too, have accepted it as a matter of course. If I'm in an English environment and then someone asks me the sign for a specific word, I'm often stumped. My ASL, when I start "cold" from an English environment, is always iffy. But once I'm IN the ASL environment for a while I switch right over and it becomes effortless.

I always think of it as switching from one language pathway to another, kind of like a train switching tracks. Both pathways are there, but I have to be ON it to have access to the language. Doesn't really work to be on both at once. (Perhaps part of the problem was that your internal monologue was in English and that contributed to the derailment.)

I know what Craven means about "letting go," that's something I consciously have to do to get back in the swing of things. The first couple of times it happened I was like, "****! What is WRONG with me! I know this language, but I'm acting like an idiot!!" etc. Stressing out about it didn't help. If I just said, "Oh well, here we go again," and waited for the switchover, it happened more quickly.

That happens the other way around, too -- if I'm on the ASL track, my English is whacked for a while.

I've done translating/ interpreting too, I hate it. I get stuck on the stupidest things.
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CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Thu 31 May, 2007 10:11 am
Interesting sozobe. Have you ever tried to converse ASL with foreigners?
I understand that even the British have different signs, even though it's
the same language.

Immersion is truly the answer, and I am so happy to see more and more
schools pop up (at least in my town) where immersion schools in French/English, Spanish/English and German/English are available. It
is such a benefit and enrichment for children to learn different languages
and it seems so effortless - at least when I see my child speaking and
switching from one to the other without any problems.

When I learned Spanish, I started translating first into English and then into German. By the time I understood a sentence, I was exhausted.
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