Tuesday, July 12, 2005

2 languages only

Here's my thinking on language: everybody can only ever speak 2 languages (unless they are bilingual from childhood).
Your first language is Language Number 1. All other languages are Language Number 2. So, let's say you speak English as your native language, and in high school you learn German and French to a minimal extent, and then in university you begin to seriously study Japanese. My theory holds that when you are struggling to find a Japanese word, you'll also think of a German or French one.

The big dilemma is where do English words learnt as an adult fit in? The answer is, I don't know but it doesn't matter. The theory is general.

Makes you wonder about age of acquisition, and how your brain changes as you grow. Well, I have read a blogger somewhere out in the ether who thinks that he grew up and then around the age of 20 suddenly became a different person - so when he looks back on life, he has distinct feelings of having been a different person. I think a lot of us can relate to that... or is it just time elapsing? My view is that the brain really does change, and that one also changes as a person. But wait you say, what about how we've all seen how some people are just like they "always were", and childhood experiences are so influential later in life? I would say, "What a good question, that requires further research which is why I would like you to give me a grant."

You know, I reckon if I wrapped this idea up in enough jargon, someone might believe I had a point.


Blogger Madi said...

I can't agree with your theory on languages because I learnt 5 languages and I actually think in three of them.

As for your research idea on feeling different enough to think something your brain changed: yes I like that idea. If I could I would give you a grant to find out if reinventing oneself is linked to personal crisis.

Good food for thought. Thanks.

11:44 pm  
Blogger EvergreenSeattle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:05 am  
Blogger EvergreenSeattle said...

I actually learnt English as a second language and now i speak arabic and english (quite fluently but with accent). Couple years ago (i'm 31 now), i tried to learn French. Well it didn't work because i when i started to form French sentences i started to think of it as English. About mixing the two languages arabic and english; i never mix the two together.

I heard that the change in the learning process of languages is related to the growth of neuroglia in one's brain stops after age 5 or so. Therefore, unless you learn the forgein languages in an early age, you won't excell in the ones you learn later in life. I guess that applies perfectly to me. But there are really some super smart people that are exceptions; you don't need to be super smart to be smarter than me though :)

7:08 am  
Blogger Michelle said...

I don't think it's time just elapsing...that would lead into other theories.
Speaking from experience, i know how deeply affected oe can be from childhood experiences. I don't think our brain changes...but we are conditioned to things. I think that we as people change because of actual learning and growth. The more you learn the more open you become.
If your interested Justine, i subscribe to this journal for my studies, it focuses mainly on criminal theories, however it does touch on other stuff too.

9:51 am  
Blogger Madi said...

Just an additional comment on seattlesdreams idea of language learning closing at age 5. Linguistic theory tells us that the right and left brain hemispheres join at puberty and if you learn a language after puberty you will have a foreign accent, if before puberty you will speak the new language without an accent.

11:14 am  
Blogger EvergreenSeattle said...

Ok i meant that after 5, your brain cells number becomes constant. Unlike the cells of muscules or bones that can be destroyed or weared out then created again over and over, the cells of the brain are constant in number after 5. So if you're still younger than 5 and you start learning, your brain will make more neuroglial cells so you'll adapt more easily to learning new languages.

Quite interesting info on the accent. Means i'll never get rid of my accent :( oh well in blogs i don't speak just write :)

11:24 am  
Blogger Justine said...

Hello all, Thanks for your wonderful, interesting comments.

Madi - 5 languages?! Good on you! What a window on the world that must be.
A grant to find out if reinventing oneself is linked to personal crisis? I'm sure it is, just look at me, LOL! I remember reading a book called "Kin Flicks" several years ago - I'll have to dig it out again. It follows the protagonist as she goes through different 'stages'. It was quite a funny book, as I recall.

Michelle - "I don't think our brain changes...but we are conditioned to things". That's an excellent point. That journal sounds good, I'll check the site out...

Seattle dreams - Welcome. "after puberty you will have a foreign accent". How true. Although its not the same for all people. I think if you have a good musical ear, it really helps with your accent (I'm not saying you're not musical though!). But the better you are at listening to yourself, well, I guess the more you could influence your accent.

"the cells of the brain are constant in number after 5" -in response to your very sensible comment, here's something funny I was sent in an email once:

***One afternoon at Cheers, Cliff was explaining the Buffalo Theory to his buddy Norm.

Here's how it went: "Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of wine eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine! That's why you always feel smarter after a few wines." *** :-)

I've heard that brain cells can grow back after being damaged (by alcohol, for instance), but its a very slow process (hic!).

6:21 pm  
Blogger The Dreamless Nomad said...

About the accent thing, i have a friend who doesn't have an accent when he normally speaks english but when he gets nervous like on a first date or if he's talking about something he doesn't know, he retreats to his accent. Any explanation?

Peace :)

6:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

older commentater says: I think the issue of accent when learning a new language depends on the sorts of sounds in your home language. as an english speaker, I have found german much easier to rponounce than some french sounds... and my brief experience of trying to learn Hindi was that some sounds - not all - are so different from what my throat and tongue can do, that I just couldnt underlined get the guttural sounds. and it does get harder to acquire new skills, but on the other hand, you can build on what you do know, so once you have done the first few languages, maybe it gets easier??

6:30 pm  
Blogger Justine said...

Older commentater - Welcome. Yes, I get that.

Seattles - are you all one person?
I find my accent becomes 'worse' (you know what I mean, no value judgements intended) when I'm tired. That's self explanatory. The other time its bad, is when I'm feeling shy. When I first started speaking Norwegian, if people understood me I felt like I'd cast a magic spell! I was surprised that my words worked(I know its silly)! But I do have quite a soft voice, and being unsure of what I was saying made me speak even quieter, until I almost was too shy to say anything at all - and those shy times were when I felt particularly inhibited to pronounce the foreign sounds properly (For example the Norwegian "o" sound, which I can do well, but which doesn't 'come naturally').

Speaking of inhibitions, and a bit off the topic, I went go out last weekend and have a very long sign language conversation. We played pool, talked about his son, his divorce, my dad, bought each other beers... I would point out that I DO NOT KNOW SIGN LANGUAGE! OK, so it was charades, not signing. He could partly lip read even though he never could hear (Isn't that amazing?), because he was dropped as a baby. It was great fun. Alcohol - the great translater.

6:48 pm  
Blogger Michelle said...

Hehehehehe....Justine, you have more Seattles than languages!

8:21 pm  
Blogger Justine said...


9:17 pm  
Blogger Punisher said...

not related to this post but I cannot find an email to contact you, my apologies. You posted a link to my blog (sharpeningiron) as a comment to another blog that appeared to be some conservative rant; sounds strange, I know. Am I making any sense? If you did post a link to my blog, any reason you posted it where you did?

6:02 am  
Blogger The Dreamless Nomad said...

hehee.. yes i'm the same one.. finally settled on Dreamless in Seattle, hoping to share all my dreams in my blog.

2:39 pm  
Blogger Urban Chick said...

my first language is english, but i've learnt three others at school

and i find that i DO mix up french and mandarin words


5:54 am  

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