Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Che Confusione!!!!

This trip has made it very clear to me how the brain associates certain situations and people with certain languages. For example, kids who always speak German with Dad, French with Mom, and English when they're all together, have NO problem keeping the languages straight. You can even throw in a Russian-speaking nanny and the kid will speak all four languages.

But start to mix it up? Then things get complicated... If Mom starts speaking German, or Dad starts speaking French... Then you're bound to have a confused kid for a while. It will all work out after a period of adaptation, but it won't happen right away.

That's what's happening to me. The American, who is used to teaching French and Spanish, but lives in Moscow, and is in Italy with her Russian school. Uh, yeah. It's messy. Throw in the German tourists I had to speak with this morning so they wouldn't sit at our students' tables and you get A VERY MESSED-UP TAMARA.

My colleagues think it's a hoot! My brain simply registers that I'm not speaking English, so I then think I'm using the right language. But I keep sitting down to conversations between the hotel staff and my Russian colleagues, when I'm supposed to translate. They all sit there with poker faces, curious how long it will it take before I realize I'm speaking Russian to the Italians and vice versa!

At the end of the day, though? I'M LOVING IT! I am SUCH a language geek! I'm amazed how my Italian has come back and I'm having so much fun with it.


Tina in CT said...

Give it a few days and you'll have it all down straight.

Remember when you had Spanish and French back-to-back in the same room at MPS and Dora would fine you each time you used one of the other languages by mistake?

Anonymous said...

i did this quite often in moscow myself - i'd order food in german thinking it was russian, i got some strange looks at mcdonalds on the arbat for sure! i just told myself "don't speak english", and then i had no control over what came out. the funny thing is now, i can hardly speak german at all - it wants to be russian!! "beating" russian into my head "beat" german right outta my head....russian is hard, german is easy (for english speakers). i am giggling at you though - only bc i am jealous and would *love* to go to italy.

miss you!

p.s. things are *wild* here!

The Expatresse said...

I'm not even good at foreign languages and I've had that happen . . . it is funny how we store things in our brains.

I even had trouble last summer in the US: I was sitting at the bar of a nice restaurant with my dad. He ordered a drink, and I could NOT think how to say, "I'll have what he's having" in English. All I could produce was Slovak because, in my mind, this is what one says in a restaurant. You speak Slovak.

My dad thought I was nuts.

Rachael said...

That's funny! And, you're right, you ARE a language nerd. But, a cool kind of nerd. I don't know how you do it: it is most certainly a gift.

And, I have no gift for languages at all, but I can sort of empathize with you: I have caught myself trying to say simple Russian phrases to my non-English speaking Mexican patients. It's NOT English! lol.

Hope you are feeling better and having a fab time in Italy. I'm jealous and can't wait to hear all the details!

Natalie said...

A foreign language is like math. You "get it" while the teacher is there, over your shoulder, but as soon as you leave class, it all gets confusing again. you ARE impressive.

Katya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katya said...

I have problems keeping languages straight, too.

I was acting as an interpreter at a business conference in Russia... I was the only interpreter at a table of 3 russians and 3 americans. After a while I was so tired that I lost track of which language I was speaking and was translating from English to English and Russian to Russian. LOL.

When I try to speak German French comes out. French seems to block what little German I have completely.

Occasionally, for no reason I can understand, I'll ask for a receipt in Japanese... and I don't even SPEAK any Japanese... just a few phrases. I guess that is the only language in which I have ever spent much time asking for receipts.

Anonymous said...

That is so funny.
I suppose to speak 3 languages - Russian, German and English.
At good times I can manage 3 distinct languages. In every day life I use two - English and Russian.
My choice of language depends on the topic of conversation and my emotional state toward the speaker. When I feel comfortable and compassionate and cozy toward the speaker and the subject, I may switch to Russian suddenly. It is very funny when all of a sudden in America someone who just spoke in English to you says something in Russian.
With all other languages I had to deal with (Japanese, French, Italian, Chinese, Dutch) I use the same method - smile, point,point again to the next table, nod your head, smile again and say Thank you.
I usually know how to say Thank you in any language I have to deal with.
Another peculiar thing is what you write down in what language.For years now I write down any notes in English.
When we moved to Connecticut, our friends talked us to go camping to the Adirondacks, where we used to go when we lived in Westchester. Which was years ago and I did all my notes in Russian. When I started to write down the list of things to bring, I started to write it in Russia.It was so strange, because I did not write anything in Russian in years, but in our camping years I still used Russian for the packing lists, and it all came back.

Tina in CT said...


What you wrote that you've experienced is very interesting.


nates5bs said...

Nate and I are having a good laugh at your story! Even with my limited Russian, I find myself speaking the phrases I know to other children that do not speak Russian. They look at me like I'm crazy before I realize they don't understand a thing I said! I remember while in Russia, we kept wanting to speak Spanish to Natasha. I don't know how you keep it all straight!

Annie said...

I know one foreign language - and not well - Russian. Every time I am speaking to someone who does not have English as their first language, Russian words keep coming into my makes me feel like SUCH an idiot! I'm glad Rachael has the same impulse.

Bethy{aka}lilsis said...

I'm envious- I'm a wannabe language geek :-)
Trouble is, I haven't figured out a good way for ME to learn them lol