Multilingual esprit de l’escalier

Last night I went to Global Café, a gathering of international and local students, and had chances to use quite a few different languages, including Czech, Hindi, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish, and also English. Apart from English and Mandarin, I don’t speak any of these languages well, and I only know bits and pieces of some of them. When I was trying to speak them I soon ran out of things to say, and was thinking that there wasn’t much more I could say.

Afterwards I came up with quite a few other things I could have said, and realised that I know more of these languages then I thought, especially Czech and Spanish, which I’ve been studying on and off for many years, but rarely speak. One thing that tends to hold me back from saying more is uncertainty about how to say things correctly. I don’t mind making mistakes, but I prefer to get things right, or at least not too wrong. I try to get the words in the right order, even if some of the verb conjugations and noun declensions are wrong.

Do you suffer from multilingual esprit de l’escalier?

Does fear of making mistakes stop you from speaking any of your languages?

7 thoughts on “Multilingual esprit de l’escalier

  1. A related question: is this fear gender related (even if you’re the exception)? I’m the sort who will just plunge in and try to say whatever, and on several occasions female friends have reacted to that observation with “Of course. You’re a guy.”

  2. Fear of mistakes is only part of the problem. As a tourist, sometimes I know enough of the local language to ask a question but not to understand the answer.

  3. @Lev: A very familiar problem. You can take as much time as you like to formulate and practise the question, but you can’t practise understanding the answer before you know what it is.

    @JIm M.: You mean fear of ridicule for using the wrong gender? 😉

    As a man, I cannot speak for women, but ‘plunging in’ is not something that comes particularly easily to me, even in my native language. I have tried to culture this approach, since I have realised that it is the most effective way to become proficient in a language. I suspect, if there is a gender discrepancy in this regard, it is very strongly culture-dependent. In most cultures of the world, it is seen as more acceptable for a man’s voice to be heard than a woman and, even in the most gender-equal societies, perhaps such traditional values persist in some measure, making women feel more vulnerable to criticism for minor errors.

  4. I am not very comfortable speaking French to native French speakers, but I am fine speaking French to other people who can speak French as a second language like me.
    In Catalan, I am totally comfortable speaking to native speakers. Probably because almost everyone I have ever spoken to in Catalan is a native speaker, so I am more used to it.

  5. Self-monitoring is my major problem when speaking in other tongues. I’m always thinking to head to see if there’s a subjunctive etc. is coming up and it really gets in the way of my communicating with anyone.
    With regard to understanding responses it’s odd – some languages I have no problem (Basque, Greek, and most of the Romance languages) – others, even some that I can read almost fluently (Urdu, for example) – I have great difficulty understanding orally.

  6. Re Joe Mock

    Understanding different languages is interesting. Always find Spanish difficult to understand, Catalan easier. I learnt Spanish formally as a foreign language (A level and can speak it very well and correctly) but have never studied Catalan formally but lived in a Catalan area for a year. Also no problem with understanding Catalans speaking Spanish.

  7. Learn many languages are I am hobby, I am was gifted with language. thank you for sharing I think  the language is the key to the world. social skills and easier to communicate. especially to understand other cultures

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