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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Question for any bilinguals, trilinguals and multilinguals.

For those of you who speak more than one language in your day to day life, does it ever get confusing? Especially those of you who speak three or more.

I am from Ireland and I speak Irish with many family members and friends from my home town, I speak Spanish with my girlfriend, French with two of my close friends and then of course English as that is the dominant language of Ireland.

I know other multilinguals who seem to have no bother switching from language to language. But for me, I find I have a headache at the end of the day from trying to communicate in so many languages.

I think the French and Spanish really messes with me due to the similarities. I grew up with English and Irish, so they come more naturally to me. My girlfriends is pretty insistent on us speaking Spanish.

So for those of you out there who also switch between multiple languages, do you find it very confusing and frustrating or can you switch with ease? And if that is the case, do you have any tips?

June 14, 2016

45 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/John00625

I don't really have a problem going from English to Spanish, sometimes it's facil to switch entre los dos idiomas without thinking. But I have no idea how others feel, especially if they speak 5+ languages, I would certainly get confused.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

I see que haciste alli. Pero es mucho mas duro when the language son de la misma familia, como Frances y Espanol, por ejemplo. English to Spanish does not cause me much bother either, I think it is beacause they are quite different from one another and it is not as easy to get mixed up.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/John00625

Yeah, I feel bad for Spanish <-> Italian or Portuguese, those languages are similar! I can understand spoken Portuguese and written Italian to some extent without having studied those languages! You may also want to listen to someone speak Galician, it's basically 80% Spanish, if they had a Galician course on Duolingo I doubt it would be hard for Spanish speakers, I'll leave a link to a video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV7XWdt72Vo

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Same. If I speak Spanish slowly to Portuguese and Italian speakers they can understand me for the most part and vice versa.

Thanks for the link by the way, Galician has always interested me.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Selma-Ibrahim

I'm bilingual.

I have no trouble at all switching from English to Arabic and vice versa. One time, I was even texting two friends at the same time - one in English, and one in Arabic. I barely even noticed it.

However, since you're quadrilingual (is that even a word?), it's only natural that it's harder for you.

Let's wait till I'm fluent in Spanish, French, and German, and I'll report back to you =D

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

I imagine you grew up with both of those languages so perhaps that why it comes so natural to you. Also Arabic is very different from English so it's easier to differentiate the language. The Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portugese, Italian, Romanian etc. or the Germanic language (Dutch, German, the Nordic languages, English etc.) are harder, I believe, to switch between because they are so similar.

On a different note, you're very lucky to be able to speak Arabic, I believe that will be very useful in the coming years.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ori_ka

I speak Latvian nearly everywhere and Russian with my parents and several people around me. I don't have problems with switching to the language but maintaining it "clean" sometimes is difficult. It mostly happens to Russian because I use it less. I would put Latvian words in, especially those with less meaning like "well", "sure" etc. I've noticed that if I concentrate harder than it gets easier but if I just relax or get excited with a topic of our discussion and don't pay attention to the process of speaking - oh, then sometimes I sound weird. :) However if I get more practice like visiting my relatives I start to sound authentic again. Sometimes I have the same issue with other languages when they come into my life for a longer time - like travelling and speaking English or French, or reading a lot in another language. I need to make an effort then not to start my phrase in English because it is what comes first. :) I think it is my concentration problems, I don't like to keep my attention on something for too long, I need small breaks. I can work hard on a boring task for a long time (like translating an agreement, writing a thesis etc) but I will distract every twenty minutes to read news, to check mail, to make another cup of tea etc.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wilkinsnick18

I never noticed it until you pointed it out, but when I speak Italian I do what you do with the "less important" words. I should say something like "quindi" but I'll say "so", and so on

June 16, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/israelpolasak

I rarely get confused since Yiddish sounds sooo different than English, however SOME times I would tell my friend something in Yiddish on accident, but im sure everyone does that. (I was raised speaking Yiddish and then English when I turned 12, 5 years later and my English is 50% better than my Yiddish, since Yiddish has less modern words than English does, as it is an old(ish) language) :D

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Interesting! Good to see that Yiddish is still alive and well! Are you from USA or Israel? I imagine it is spoken more in America than in Israel but I might be wrong.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/israelpolasak

Im from Brooklyn NY :P Lived here all my life. The reason I learned English so late is because I went to a Yiddish speaking school, I live in a Yiddish speaking neighborhood, the stores, people, neighbors literally everyone speaks Yiddish here. However, both my parents are from Israel :D And yes, it is more common here, in NY than in Israel to speak Yiddish.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

That's quite similar to our situation here. Ireland for the most part is an English speaking nation with the exception of certain regions where Irish is almost exclusively spoken, in the home, the school, work etc. I have friends who were not able to speak English well until they were about 11 or so.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/israelpolasak

Nice :P Irish is way too complicated for me to learn, however I wouldnt mind knowing it ahha it seems like a pretty cool language to know :D, does it have modern words like "computer" "phone" "notebook" etc lol?

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

It's difficult at first, but once you start to see the connections, you would learn it in no time. Yes we do have words for modern things like computer, phone, radio and like in English, French, German etc. These words tend to be rooted in Latin or Greek. Television is Teilifís, Phone is Fón, a cell phone however is Fón póca which means pocket phone :)

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PolyglotCiro

I speak 5 languages, I use them everydays (by reading, talking, listening etc.) and I don't find it difficult to switch with the most of the languages I speak, the hardest part is to speak Dutch after just having spoked German, because they are similar languages, anyway I find it easy to switch between all the other languages I speak, like Hebrew, English and Spanish.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

I find when I have to switch for reading or listening, it's not a problem. It's mostly an issue when I'm speaking one language after the other. I kind of feel like the jack of all trades and master of none, because of the number of languages I speak, it's hard to master any one in particular.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PolyglotCiro

Oh I understand, so you have to speak many languages so often?

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Yep, Irish with family, french with friends, Spanish with my girlfriend and English for pretty much everything else. So 4 languages every day.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PolyglotCiro

WAO!

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dagobertinchen

German native, I have been living in Australia for 10 years.

Yes, I find it hard. I rarely speak German these days and it tells: when talking to my father on the phone, I notice that some German vocabularies have become elusive. Mortgage? Raspberry? It took me a while to remember their German counterparts. It also requires some concentration to remember the different word order.

When I speak a lot of German (either on holidays in Germany or due to my father visiting me), it happens that I speak German to my husband. He knows about 20 words and looks at me with big eyes, asking me what I said. It often takes 2 or 3 attempts until I realise that I spoke in the wrong language.

The easiest conversations are with other Germans in Australia. The main language is German and in between we use English; either because we don't remember the German word immediately or an English expression nails it better. The latter happens quite often, actually. I find English very precise in terms of vocabularies. However, a school friend of mine who has been living in Scotland for the last 20 years brought to my attention that some words are not being used in all English speaking countries. Apparently "shonk" is very Australian... !?!

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/basicdesign1

My mate (British, Irish ascent, builder) has used it on rare occasions as a synonym for "(dodgier than) dodgy". A couple of his mates use it too. But they are the only ones I've heard it from (Fr., 20 yrs in UK). So I just looked for it, first entry is this: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Shonk. Didn't know about the 3rd rate sanwich van, and am wondering what meaning you use the word for?

I speak 2,3 languages (~0.3 is for Spanish, hardly counts at that stage). I have no prob' with switching - it's the others that have the problem :D. Yes, some occasional confusion, not that much. Works a treat with my son, though: we use whatever language says it quickest, often in the same sentence, occasionally in the same word. Mixing that way is also great for puns. In fact I took up Spanish for that reason: he gabbles very good Spanish too and was starting to use spfranglish, so I had to get up to it. I never heard him confuse Spanish and French. Then again we've never actually spoken in Spanish together, but I've seen him with mixed groups and he doesn't confuse it then either. I'll have to ask him if he gets confused on that when I'm not there - that might make a difference.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dagobertinchen

I only know the meaning shonk= dodgy person, a dudder.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SeptimusBones

Depends on what one qualifies as confusing.

Do I have trouble changing between languages? No.

Do I have trouble mixing two or more languages simultaneously in the same sentence? No.

Do I have trouble if I try to stick to just one language? Sometimes, especially if I'm discussing a topic I've mainly learned in another language. For example, I will have problems discussing high level chemistry in Finnish, because I learned it all in English. And even if I don't have trouble per se, coming up with Finnish terms for everything will slow me down a bit.

So in conclusion, yea it's confusing/frustrating sometimes but only if I'm forced to go against the bilingualism of my brain.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ori_ka

Well said, "going against the bilingualism of the brain". :) Yeah, it may be hard with certain themes like you mentioned chemistry in your case. Discussing psychology or kayaking with my mum is literally a headache. :)

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BrookeLorren

Not particularly.

Occasionally, I will try to think of a word in one language and I come up with the word in other languages, but sometimes it's because I don't know the word in that language. I think the better I am at a particular language, the less confusing it gets.

Even though I know both Spanish and German, I find the German for Spanish Speakers course to be slightly challenging, because I'm not using any English at all.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PaulL05

I can switch into English and Cantonese Chinese with ease, as I grew up speaking those two languages. I've spoken French since I was 12, so I can also switch into French with some preparation. While I still have a long way to go before I can call myself fluent in Swedish (though Duolingo has really helped me learn quicker than I thought possible), I find it fairly easy to switch between speaking one language and then writing/reading/listening to simple Swedish (lätt svenska).

I personally find switching into Mandarin Chinese hard. While I can understand Mandarin Chinese, I really struggle with speaking it (and I don't think I will ever lose my strong Hong Kong Cantonese accent when speaking Mandarin). I don't get many opportunities to speak Mandarin, though. Perhaps I ought to immerse myself more in that language :-).

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Evildea

I speak English, Esperanto, and I'm now conversational in Mandarin. Kind of hard to confuse them lol :P

June 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/H.Yang

Not too difficult, Swedish and German trip me up every now but that's due to their great similarity. I would say focus on how each language is distinct and have an image of the culture each language represents in your mind before speaking.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Thanks, I'll try that. I think part of the problem is that like you said, I don't focus on each language as 'distinct' as you put it. I often just see French and Spanish as strange variations of one another.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KristenDQ

I have no problem going from English to ASL (American Sign Language), French, Italian, or Spanish. I have a little trouble going back and fourth between Spanish and Portuguese though since the languages are so similar.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Wow, well done for being able to speak so many languages fluently!

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KristenDQ

Thanks, although I wouldn't necessarily say I'm "fluent" in some of them.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/finndj

I speak French and Spanish with my parents, and Swedish with some of my friends. It really helps to improve all of these languages, and my Swedish is now stronger than my French (I was raised speaking French). I would like to start speaking Spanish with another friend, and as for German, I lack the confidence to speak it, though there are people I can speak it with. As for Danish, I go to Denmark a lot, so I speak it whenever I am there.

I can switch language with ease, and once had full conversation in Danish and Spanish. There was no English involved. I actually found myself translating from Danish rather than English when I was speaking Spanish. I like to practice by singing originally Danish (or whatever song you like) and singing it in another language, whilst alone or in the shower. This way you work on using two languages at once!

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/StephenL1

I grew up with French as a second language but learned Spanish in my 20's. Because French is so ingrained I almost never mix it up with Spanish unless I'm going back and forth within an international group of people. I also almost never mix up Spanish with German (also in my 20's) because they are so different. I briefly tried to learn Italian and would get it constantly mixed up with Spanish.

Given my experience, I would say it's a combination or what you grew up with as well as language similarity.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RG710

I speak Malay and English. It's not confusing and I can switch from Malay to English and vice versa without any problems although, I might get confuse if I encounter words, expressions or phrases that I'm not familiar with. If I have to translate I would say it's harder to translate Malay to English than English to Malay. I' not exactly sure why though. I also understand Indonesian but I don't think this is surprising since Malay and Indonesian are close. I have heard several times that someone who knows many languages might confuse the languages that he knows if they are close like Spanish and Portuguese, Dutch and German etc. It can be confusing to any people if they don't have strong grasps in the languages that they know, it's not quite enough to just know it, it's better if they use it.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/zyxwvutsrqpo

I don't get confused between Dutch, English, German, French and Portuguese :P.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Allison24Argent

I'm native German and talk in it most of the time but speak to some friends or on the internet English. My biggest problem is that I forget some words in German that I have to replace with English. O that I know what I wanna say but it doesn't make sense in the language i have to use. I don't really have a problem switching languages only staying at the one I'm supposed to use.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/amaratea

I use English daily and, more important, spontaneously, so I consider myself functionally bilingual. I never had problems switching, it goes naturally. I notice that when I am really tired or distracted, I start making more mistakes, but that's it. It never brings any problems, only slight regrets that sometimes certain things get lost in translation, but that's rather a peculiarity than a problem.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/YvonneJanssen

Had alot of languages on highschool, at one point my school managed to put english, latin, french and german on the same day... oww that time at tests that I could remember the word in all other languages except of the language I was trying to remember it for.

I have no problem switching to english and french, since I spoke those languages a lot for work, also since french is also a bit different. as a native dutch speaker, ofc swapping to dutch is easy too. My german is a bit rusty, and since I'm practicing my danish a lot I find that if I try to speak german I keep mixing danish words in my german.

June 14, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/hpatyahoodotcom

Not really. Never thought about that, but it happens that I might use a word from other languages and accidentally mixed in my sentence. Depends on the audience, sometimes it is fine, sometimes I have to slow down and be careful.

June 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/FrankKool

In my experience, interference only occurs between languages that 1) are similar to each other, 2) in which I am less than fluent.

For example, I never get German words mixed up with Russian, even though my Russian is still weak. But I do mix up Spanish and French words when I converse.

June 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/nehus

for the moment i speak in three languages, spanish (native) english and portuguese and sometimes i get confused at the moment to speak.

for example, somtimes when i'm speaking in spanish I accidentally say "você" instead of "usted/vos" also, i want to add that when i'm thinking in something, i usually think that en another language instead of my language. yeah, it's kind of weird :v

(BTW: is my english good?)

June 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shanow22

Yes very good! Only corrections.. 'when i'm thinking in something' should be 'when i'm thinking OF something' and 'i usually think that en another language instead of my language' should be ' i usually think OF that IN another language instead of my OWN language.' Other than those few small things, it's perfect :)

June 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/nehus

thanks :D

June 16, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Sonja426204

I grew up in an Afrikaans household and learned English and isiXhosa at school so I had different "spaces" in my head for different languages, based on where I am and who I am with. At home, I would be in my Afrikaans "space" - I'll think in Afrikaans, I'll write my shopping list in Afrikaans, I'll talk to my parents in Afrikaans. But at a restaurant with my English friends, I'll be in my English "space" - I'll read the English side of the menu, I'll talk in English and think in English. Because those are the two languages I grew up with it's really easy for me to switch between those two spaces.

Now that I'm learning Dutch I do have the occasional slip-up due to the similarity between the two languages, I even caught myself typing "niets" (nothing in Dutch) instead of "nie" (not in Afrikaans) to my mom the other day!

June 16, 2016
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