Good news for me, and for many other ex-pats who live life in two languages, came in the form of a New York Times article last week, where cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok (does that remind anyone else of The Producers?) talks about the potential advantages of being bilingual, including reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and increasing the ability to multitask.
So we can all pretty much agree that being bilingual has a lot of advantages. In fact, I’m considering learning another language (and accept suggestions). Right now I’m considering French or German. (I know, Portuguese, but I still have PTSD from my awful Brazilian embassy English class and the sound of Portuguese kind of makes me want to crawl into a hole and die).
However, living in a foreign country while also speaking your native language can be frustrating at times. It’s the silly annoyances like going back and forth between an English keyboard and a Spanish keyboard which causes me to type things like Ñ= while at work when I really mean to type 🙂 or it-s instead of it’s while I’m at home because of the different keyboards.
It gets more serious when I forget how to spell things in English, and swear that movilization is a word in English and excellente is how you spell excellent in Spanish.
And then there are the verbal slip-ups. It’s somewhat natural that I still make mistakes in Spanish, constantly referring to the male security guard at my office as “la guardia” (which would be the female version) no matter how many times my boss corrects me. When I was first immersed in Spanish I made lots of slip-ups in to English, telling my parents on Skype that “I have hungry” (In Spanish it’s tengo hambre and tengo=I have). I’ve learned to control those missteps, but now I say things in English and don’t even realize that isn’t the way we say it in English.
A good example was Friday night as I was talking to my friend R. I don’t even remember exactly what we were discussing, but I think it was about signing up for the GRE. Here in Santiago you can take the GRE at a large English Institute in downtown Santiago. She asked me about the registration process and I told her, “You can sign up online, or with the same people at the Institute.” She paused for a second and said, “Abby, that’s not right…that’s Spanglish.” And she was right. That’s what I would have said in Spanish, translated directly into English.
So while I’m glad that being bilingual and using two languages on a daily basis is helping my brain, sometimes I wish my brain would just calm down and be able to separate the two. The running commentary in my head is often a mixed bag of Spanish and English depending on the day, and my dreams are often in both languages as well. The other day I dreamed I was leading a tour group of senior citizens around Santiago and one of them exclaimed “It’s temblando!” Está temblando is what people say in Spanish when there is a small earthquake.
I suppose I could solve this problem by refusing to speak English while here in Chile, but that would make communication with my friends and family back home a bit difficult, as well as jeopardize my job. I could move back to the U.S. and refuse to speak Spanish, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of having lived abroad and become fluent in Spanish to begin with.
So for now, I guess I’ll live with the daily annoyances and overactive brain. 🙂
P.S. If you’d like to check out some funny group posts about bad menu translations, head on over to Cachando Chile. I unfortunately have no real examples to contribute, except the time when I saw a menu where ham (jamón) was translated as jam throughout the entire thing, creating some interesting menu items (pizza with jam and pineapple, anyone?).