Lost Language Department – Up The Stairs

Jon Brandt from Travel Guy
Gonaives Haiti
Gonaives Haiti, Photo by Michael Johnson

It’s been sort of a rough week for my head. It seems as though I’m not only losing my English but simultaneously sucking at Spanish. I guess the English started slipping over time and with such immersion, it’s only a matter of time before the grammar starts to go. According to my dad, my blogs are getting sloppier and sloppier. I now speak no language well.

It’s been sort of a rough week for my head. It seems as though I’m not only losing my English but simultaneously sucking at Spanish.

Canada flag
Canada flag, Photo by Sam Daams

Last week when I spent the afternoon at an estancia with my job, assisting Canadian tourists, I could see how my English was exaggerated and forced. It seemed like I was subconsciously speaking with a slight Spanish accent. But why? I guess because the majority of the time that I hear English (not counting TV), it comes from a second language speaker. So over time, I’ve forgotten what English should actually sound like and naturally correct myself when a mistake is made. Basically, I spend all day in a Spanish speaking environment and either come home and continue in Spanish or don’t speak to anyone else.

This is disconcerting to me because obviously I don’t want to lose my linguistic skills in my own tongue that I spent years developing, but at the same time don’t want to sacrifice my Spanish skills and give it all up. But for now, despite my best efforts, I sound like an idiot in Spanish, which brings us to the second point of tonight’s topic. I guess since Monday I’ve noticed that my Spanish has taken a nose dive this week. I’m not that surprised by it because once every few months my brain just has a meltdown and I can’t talk for about a week. It’s part of the learning process.

The funny thing is I was describing this process to a co-worker on Monday and realized that I couldn’t roll my r’s quickly and the pronunciation was just terrible for my standards.

The funny thing is I was describing this process to a co-worker on Monday and realized that I couldn’t roll my r’s quickly and the pronunciation was just terrible for my standards.

Rolling Rs

This is how I realized I’ve hit the dry spell. It’s like my mouth has gotten lazy. I’m also having trouble understanding Spanish. This morning when trying to say ‘pero’ (but) I said ‘Perú.’ Maybe reading a book in Spanish is a reason—just overloading my head and causing a reboot. Hopefully by the end of the week or early next week I’ll be back to where I was. Or I need to rest and regroup.

bike ride
bike ride, Photo by Peacocks

This struggle just reiterates to me that it’s extremely difficult to become truly fluent in another language. I mean 100% to the point that people have no idea you are from a different country. I’ve met these people before, and when they spoke English I couldn’t tell they were from another country with a different language. It takes years and influence as a child, as well as dedication on their part. I don’t know if I will reach that stage in the limited time I’ve had to study and live with Spanish.

I’ve discussed with friends in the past the difficulties we have with developing a second language. We have agreed that sometimes to be excellent in another language you need to sacrifice some of your natural skills. Otherwise, you get too confused. There are times when I purposely make mistakes as a joke, but other times when a mistake in English comes out, I take a step back in shock. “Wow, that just happened.”

For the time being, I need to ride out this stretch of lousy Spanish and keep improving. As for the English, it’s just a matter of time until that bounces back, but before I move home to the States I wonder how much worse it could get. I can’t imagine the embarrassment of showing up for grad school on the first day and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Jon, I have 25 years.’

About the author:

After spending 11 months in Ecuador volunteering as an English teacher, Jon Brandt is back in the US biding his time before his next trip. Destination: Buenos Aires. Latest update: Jon is currently in BA.

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Discussion »

  • #1keiran

    Lol…… found something really interesting to read after a long time. I have bookmarked this blog and would love to read more articles from you.

  • #2Jon Brandt

    Thanks Keiran,
    You can find my published writing, photography, and videos on my Web site, http://www.jon-brandt.com and always check in at my blog, http://www.ttravelguy.wordpress.com. Glad that you enjoyed the post!


  • #3Hannah In Motion

    Ah yes… I love the meltdown points along the way when your brain just refuses to grab all the pretty words you were in possession of just the day before. Rather than a polite ‘excuse me?’ in Turkish, I’ve just started grunting and looking confused. They get the idea.

    Thanks for the post.

  • #4Derk

    Hehe, you remind me of my countrymen who go to the States for six months and come back speaking Dutch with a heavy American accent. It’s just an affectation.

    I’ve lived abroad and spoken mostly English for 20 years now. Yet I still speak fluent Dutch without any trace of an accent. There may be some new words I don’t know but that’s all.

  • #5Zane Claes

    I feel your pain about losing proficiency in your native language while studying another… it is a phase I think we all go through. It may even be more than a phase – an unavoidable natural phenomenon. It is certainly disheartening at first.

    For that very reason, though, I don’t think it is worth worrying about. There are bad days (and weeks) when it comes to learning any skill. Any neuroscientist (or optimist, for that matter) will tell you “that’s just how it is.”

    I wrote a bit more about the subject of making mistakes, why they are scientifically natural, and how they can even help you on my blog.

  • #6Natalie

    This article is so true. Through making a conscious effort to learn Turkish, my English has become horrendous. The grammar is unrecognisable and I speak like someone who never attended English lessons!

  • #7Christian Rene Friborg

    Can’t agree more. It is quite difficult to become really fluent in another language. In my case, I am still trying to become better with my English skills, since my mother tongue is German. But because I have to work in different countries due to the nature of my job, I have and need to learn English.

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