Funny Things about Learning and Using Languages

Much has been said and written about the acquisition and use of foreign languages, yet learning and using them in our daily lives we keep on discovering various quirks and trivia all the time. Here’s what I’ve been pondering for a while…

1. Whether doing a language course or at school, one of the first things we learn in a foreign language is counting, and yet it seems to be one of the last things we start doing naturally in a foreign language. Even after being in Germany for a long time now and doing everything in German (including dreaming) I still count in Polish. I talked about this phenomenon with my international friends living abroad and they all confirm they do the same.

2. One of the first things, on the other hand, that comes naturally when you’re abroad and learning a foreign language is swearing in that language. When I first came here as an exchange student I started dropping the German sch… word into my train of thought quite quickly. It was similar in Italy (where I hardly spoke Italian at all at the beginning) but that might be due to the fact that the Italians use their swearwords A LOT.

3. Living bilingually (and none of the languages I’m using on a daily basis is my mother tongue) I have noticed that often enough I unintentionally drop one German word into an English conversation or an English word into a conversation in German. What’s more, it’s not only unintentional but also subconscious! I hardly notice it and can’t really control it. It is as if my brain decided for me: well, now I found a better word for that thing or notion faster in that language you should say it, even though the conversation is in the other language. It’s really awkward and sometimes quite embarrassing. 🙂


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