… in Spanish he’s el gato in a sombrero …
I read somewhere that childen raised multi-lingual go through a period during which they speak all of their languages at once. Their brains don’t sift through and focus on one tongue. They find the necessary word and use whichever language they find it in first.
I loved learning that, loved the idea of language being so fluid, so interchangeable, of brains being so dextrous — and not at the same time.
I have studied French and Italian with some degree of seriousness, Hungarian and Czech with no seriousness at all (though I can still say useful things like “Who is that man?” “What a bargain!” and “Come on everybody, clap your hands!” in Hungarian).
I wouldn’t have thought my brain could or would do the linguistic slip of the polyglot child, however. Until now. Until trying to learn Spanish. There are times when I’ll be chatting with Martín or Gustavo and I’ll feel particularly able, particularly comfortable with speaking, particularly sure that I’m expressing myself clearly and completely. When I finish whatever thing I’ve just said so well, there will be a little silence on the other end of the line, and then M or G will say, “I don’t think that was Spanish.” Oh. Right. Because somewhere in there I slipped over to French (the one I know best) and started throwing in a bit of Italian (the one that feels closest to Spanish).
And I can’t hear it happening, can’t hear that I’m not speaking Spanish. I know Martín or Gustavo must wonder what’s up with me. It’s taken me months of study with them to realize that they keep correcting me when I say ‘niente’ … not because ‘nothing’ is the wrong word in whatever situations I’m using it, but because ‘niente’ is Italian, not Spanish. It’s frustrating from a getting-my-work-done perspective, but it fascinates me, too. How does my brain do that?