Unexpected languages

My course in Gleann Cholm Cille finished yesterday and I’m on my why home. I’m staying in Dublin tonight and continuing my journey to Bangor tomorrow. The hostel I’m staying in tonight is full of people from all over the world – so far I’ve heard French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and a Scandinavian language being spoken, and well as various varieties of English. I keep thinking that people are speaking Irish when I only half hear them as that’s the language I’m expecting to hear with my brain in Irish mode. So far though, I haven’t heard any Irish at all.

I had a wonderful time at Oideas Gael, met lots of interesting people, and spoke lots of Irish, as well as a few other languages. I’ll certainly be going back there next year. I just need a few days to recover from the late nights, especially from last night, when I was dancing, singing, playing music and talking to people until 3am.

On Thursday during a tea break one of the other students, an Irish woman, came over and starting talking Japanese to me, which was very unexpected. She worked in Japan for four years and speaks Japanese well, and when she heard that I speak Japanese she decided to speak it to me. As I was in Irish mode and the last thing I was expecting to hear was Japanese, it took me a few moments to realise what language she was speaking. Then when I tried to speak to her in Japanese I found that Irish words were coming to me first and I had to suppress them to let Japanese ones bubble to the surface.

I’m more used to switch between other languages, such as English, Welsh, French and Irish, but this was the first time I’d needed to switch between Irish and Japanese. I’m sure if I needed to do this regularly I would become better at it.

If someone speaks to you in a language you know, but are not expecting to hear, are you able to switch straight into that language?

This entry was posted in English, Irish, Japanese, Language, Manx, Music.

3 Responses to Unexpected languages

  1. Dean says:

    I often find this is the case when switching back to my native English from speaking German. One night I was out and met a group of German tourists in a bar. I spent about half an hour talking to them exclusively in German, but when I went back to speaking English with my friends, I kept accidentally using German words and and putting verbs at the end of sentences.

    Has anybody else found themselves accidentally using phrases from other languages directly translated to their native tongue? For example, I will sometimes say “it’s five hour” when asked what time it is.

  2. David Eger says:

    @Dean: I have never been fluent enough in another language for it to creep into my native language (English) to that degree, although I often find it difficult to get back in to the flow of English after speaking another language. When speaking a foreign language, however, I frequently find myself mixing in words from other languages; since my current ‘second’ language (i.e. the one I speak most frequently, after English) is Welsh, I have to work quite hard to stop myself from using Welsh words or syntax when speaking any other language. Bizarrely, whilst having a conversation in Welsh today, I found myself answering “oui” to a question – it’s two years since I was last in France and I have spoken very little French since then.

  3. I find that I run into this kind of issue the most when quickly switching between two languages other than my native language. For instance, there have been times when I’ve been speaking with Chinese and Japanese speakers, and I’ll find myself talking in Chinese to a Japanese speaker who doesn’t speak Chinese or vice versa simply because I somehow failed to switch modes.

    Another example this brings to mind is from right after I got back from learning Portuguese in Brazil. I’d basically been using only Portuguese for months, and when I got home my mom asked me something about the laundry and I replied fully in Portuguese, not even realizing I had done so until she awkwardly laughed in a way that would have made no sense in response to what I said—had I said it in English.

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