Does My Brain Only Have Room for Two Languages?

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Day 72: Leon, Granada

I’ve now taken five days of Spanish classes and have lived with my gracious host family the entire time.

Ninety percent of the day I speak and hear Spanish, almost to the point that I understand 20% of Spanish television and my favourite telenovela is Donde Esta Elisa?

After class today I went to the lavenderia because while I can wash my own laundry it’s not worth the energy – in Central America laundry service is only a few dollars.

Also, I’m notoriously bad at anything to do with cleaning. In my first week I tried to handwash some t-shirts and was left with soap stains on clothing that didn’t smell the freshest.

At the lavenderia I asked the man, who didn’t look local, if he spoke English and he responded “a little” and then inquired if I spoke French.

This wasn’t unusual as I’ve seen the Alliance Francaise here along with a few other French organizations.

It turns out the man was from Paris but now living here; although he still remembers that there is a cafe in Paris named Angelina and it has the best hot chocolate.

I told him in French that I was from Canada and while I was anglophone I also spoke French. Well at least that was what I intended to do.

As it turns out the entire phrase was Spanish and when I tried to correct myself and continue in French only Spanish words came to mind.

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I wanted to tell him that because French and Spanish were so similar, it was helpful to know French while I studied Spanish. But at that moment I had forgotten the 10+ years of French I had learned and any attempt to access a phrase only returned Spanish vocabulary.

And so I continued to talk in Spanish; it just flowed from my mouth as my mind was desperately seeking French.

When I returned I tried to thank him, but again no merci, only gracias.

I don’t know if this is a sign that my brain is finally grasping Spanish or that, at 32, I’ve reached my memory limit and from now on a new language will need to replace an old one.

At the moment if I had to choose between the two, I’d have to say I’m okay with replacing French as Spanish is more useful.

Join the Conversation

  1. I found the same issues when I was learning Spanish in Peru last year. The decades old French I had in my head kept rearing its ugly head and I ended up speaking a mix of English, Spanish and French. The Spanish took hold quickly though and I loved it. Cheers!

  2. You’re doing better than most, I can only speak English (of course) and I really struggle with learning other languages.

    I need to chuck myself in at the deep end I think though and surround myself with it like you have and then I may stand a chance.

  3. Sounds familiar! Since I have started learning Italian it is hard to think of a sentence in French. I have noticed that when I am reading French again, it does come back. Still prefer Italian ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I am sure if you were in a place what was french speaking you would be able to pick up it again easily

    p.s.I work with a women who can speak 12 different languages

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have no idea how someone can find room for 12 languages, they must learn them when they are young. Although Europeans seem to always know a few, maybe Iยดm just a lazy North American.

  5. I seriously have no idea how people become polygots. It just blows my mind. I can’t even handle bilingualism.

  6. Carmie Brogan says:

    I think it is a gift..just like painting, music, etc are gifts…you just have a little gift and I have none!

  7. Esmeralda says:

    Me alegra que estes aprendiendo Ayngelina.

  8. giuliadventures says:

    I totally forgot German when I started studying Russian. Now I’m loosing Russian studying Arabic… ๐Ÿ™‚
    At least I can always speak Italian and English!

  9. je hablos un peu espaniol?! WHAT?!?!? HAHHAHAHA

  10. I have this problem, too. I studied French for 9 years and used to speak it quite well, but now even the simplest sentences turn into Chinese halfway through. I can still read, though, which gives me hope that if I go back to France it will start to come back.

  11. Christine says:

    First off, where are you?!? I’m trying to find places other than France where I can use my French…and I didn’t think South America would be the top of the list! However, I do really want to learn Spanish as well and I have a feeling I’ll run into the same problems as you. They’re so similar in so many ways!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Christine, they are so many French organizations in Leon, Nicaragua, not sure why.

  12. Thanks,very cool post on language learning! Challenging and tough, learning a new language is one of the most exhilarating things you can do.

  13. LengthyTravel says:

    I have had the same experience with my Japanese. I hope to visit Japan again after my South America trip and I am very curious if it will come back quickly or if there is a lot that is now gone for good.

  14. Danielle Krautmann says:

    I can completely relate and am kicking myself for choosing to learn French over Spanish when I was in school. Although it was fun upon the occasional trip to Montreal, in my career as an occupational therapist I have found Spanish would be far more useful. Now I’m here in Peru trying to learn and improve my Spanish and when I tell people I know French cannot recall a single word. Although I have to admit, in the beginning stages, knowing French helped a lot with learning Spanish. The formation of the language is similar and when I couldn’t recall a Spanish word, I would say it in French and sometimes it would come out right!
    A good friend of mine told me once if she could have a super power, it would be to be able to speak every language in the world. I think that is genius!

  15. Learning new languages comes really naturally to some people, but I find it so hard! I was raised with just one language so my brain was never wired to know more than one language (besides the basic broken Spanish). I’m always so envious when I meet multilingual people. I took Italian for two years in college and became mostly fluent, but then never had a reason to use it, so I have lost most of it. So frustrating!!!

  16. Seems like all those languages get tucked away until you’re exposed to them again. It’s the switching between them that gets difficult ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. natalia_pi says:

    and how’s your Spanish now? hope you’re not losing it, it’d be such a pity ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      My spanish is still pretty good although I hope to be putting it to a test soon in SPain.

  18. Hiya!

    I’m in Nicaragua now, and am trying to decide on a spanish school to go to. I also hope to do a spanish school. I am a COMPLETE beginner, I am in Granada now, but have to say I much much preferred Leon. Everything about it. I was looking at the Metropoli’s Spanish School. Is this the one you went to? If not, what was the name of it? It’s always good to get reccomendations- especially as I plan to do classes for 5 weeks- so want to make sure I get it right.

    Thanks!

  19. Kristin McNeil says:

    What school did you study at? I’m hoping to tai emu 13 yr old son backpacking in Central America next year and want to spend a few weeks studying Spanish. P.S. I’m 32 also! Yay us! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I can’t remember the name but there are a few schools in Leon, Nicaragua. I’d personally stay away from Antigua, Guatemala. There are so many schools there that most of the city speaks English and you really need a town where you are forced to practice Spanish.

  20. Kristin McNeil says:

    Wow I had a major typo in my first comment. Just to clarify I’m hoping to take my 13 yr old son backpacking in Central America. ๐Ÿ™‚

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