I studied Spanish for 5 years in high school, lived in Southern California speaking a lot of Spanish and spent 5 months in Spanish speaking countries and got to a very proficient level in Spanish. Then I went to Brazil and started learning Portuguese through total immersion. After two weeks in Brazil I became friends with a girl who spoke Spanish. I was horrified when I opened my mouth to speak Spanish to her and Portuguese kept coming out. For the next month, every time we spoke Spanish I would keep slipping up and using Portuguese words and pronunciation instead of Spanish. The words that gave me the most trouble were: el/ele, ella/ela, de, voy/vou, va/vai, olvidar/esquecer, recordar/lembrar to name a few. Even when I focused on it and slowed down my speach I still found myself making Portuguese instead of Spanish.
I'm really curious to see if anyone has any strategy for switching between Spanish and Portuguese, or between any two Romance languages. I think the biggest problem was that when I started learning Portuguese I stopped practicing Spanish so I got out of the habit of speaking it.
June 1, 2009
I wrote a blog post about this. 😉
July 1, 2011
"I think the biggest problem was that when I started learning Portuguese I stopped practicing Spanish so I got out of the habit of speaking it."
I think this is the crux of the issue. I've found the same problem, but with much less closely related languages like Urdu, Spanish and Serbian. I grew up speaking both Serbian and English, but after about the age of 5 we've spoke less and less of my mother's native language at home. It's hard to maintain in Australia after all, especially with a Pakistani-American father who doesn't understand the language much. Anyway, after I got to a conversational language of Spanish, I realized that I constantly wanted to use Spanish words in Serbian. I had trouble remembering Serbian conjunctions and adverbs, and I constantly said "sí" instead of "da". But now that I've made a real effort to speak Serbian at home (especially after my monoglot grandmother came to visit for a month or so), I no longer really confuse them.
Then, over the Christmas holidays I studied Urdu while visiting Pakistan. I noticed that I started confusing Urdu with both Serbian and Spanish. After some Skype conversations with my mother and one of my dad's Chicano colleagues this was solved. I've stopped studying Urdu actively (my plan is to get back into it in November) for Dutch. And now when I do short sentences in my inner monologue in Urdu, it all comes out in Dutch! It even takes me up to 5 minutes to actually notice 😛
So I agree, it's all about actually using the language. If you teach your brain to think that a certain language is only good for a certain situation (e.g. being in that country), then it'll take the easy way out and move vocabulary towards wherever passive knowledge is stored.
July 5, 2011
I agree with Saim. Well said. You have to push your knowledge to the certain level to stop mixing them. Or to make your brain think about what language to use all the time. Which is damn hard
Speak: (english: upper intermediate)
Learn: (spanish: B2)
Dream about: (french: elementary), (hebrew: zero) and (polish: zero).
July 5, 2011
actually while i was in Spain I was speaking mostly spanish, I had spent to weeks there, and didn't think a word of Italian or anything, and on my 11th day there, there were some italians on the beach chair next to me and I started talking to them, the only thing was I was speaking much slower than usual because I had to monitor and make sure what was coming out was actually Italian and not Spanish. (For instance I said Razone, which is a mixture of the words ragione, and razón, I also forgot the word to burn, which is bruciare, so I simply didn't say it, even though I must have used that word 1000 times.) but I find that if you just speak a little slower and stay calm then you will be fine, I also tend to imitate the accent of the language, that way using a spanish word would sound awkward cause I would have to change my accent
Yesterday I got back to new york and spoke Italian and after about 5 or 10 minutes I had successfully switched back into 100% italian, and didn't have to monitor my speech!
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