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Elizabeth Gu

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Questions for bilingualists and trilingualists. Does being able to speak more than one language ever make you forget your mother tongue?

Being able to speak more than one language is certainly an amazing thing.
You get to feel, think and even act like (once you thought of them as)foreigners(but feel like not anymore, it’s like you’re already being part of them).
And you can communicate with them more deeply without a translator’s help, which is the best part, I think.
But it sometimes gives you a headache unless you’re a genius.
Have you ever had the experience when you have a bit of a hard time speaking your mother tongue fluently because of other languages you recently take up learning? And you think, since you started learning different languages, your ability to speak ‘mother tongue’ somewhat declined than ever before? If so, what’s your coping mechanism, so to speak? Do you give up on a certain language, reminding yourself that being able to speak these languages is enough, this is too much for me? (My Spanish, exhibit A.lol
No, I can't give up on learning it really 'cause I love speaking it.)
Or do you spend more time to keep up with your fast growing ability to mimic foreign languages accents while practicing all the languages you can speak every day? How do you balance..?
I sincerely ask you to impart your wisdom here.
:)
THX

P.S. What's your special way to practice languages?

Topics: language
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    Dec 28 2013: I speak Minangnese, bahasa Indonesia, English, Korean, and intermediate Japanese. I used to learn German and Chinese as well, but I can't speak them anymore - obviously I'm just a language-geek, not a genius! :)

    I was living in Korea for five years, during which time I used English as my first language. And starting from that period, I think I'd been thinking in English as well. Unless when I'm thinking about very specific situation that is more suitable to the other languages I speak (I like to imagine scenes in my mind, and think of what I would say in various situation -- this has been one of the best way of learning languages for me as well). Even now after I return to Indonesia, I still mostly think in English because it's been most convenient for me, and I can express myself better in English rather than in Bahasa.

    Along with its reduced usage, I do find that my Bahasa skills are deteriorating, sometimes I come out with really odd sentences. I even forget words, sometimes. During conversation, I can rather easily deal with it by using English terms now and then. But it's a problem when I'm writing emails or letters in which inserting English terms doesn't seem appropriate. I'm not doing anything in particular about it though, I'm sure I'll regain my Bahasa skills again the more I used them. After all, that's how I became more proficient in Korean (yes, classes did teach me something, but using it daily was really what made the language an integral part of me).

    My special way of practicing languages: thinking in that language. I'm currently re-learning Japanese. I learned Japanese about 10 years ago in high school and pretty much forgot anything but the basics. It feels so sad that I can understand more than I can express, so I'm re-learning now. I imagine myself in various scenes, and set up lines as if I were practicing an interview or dialogue with someone in Japanese. I know... what a geek! :P
    • Dec 28 2013: Dear Dewi
      Hi,welcome to the club! Yes, you seem like a language geek.
      So am I(Except for the fact that you seem to be able to speak more languages than I am).
      It's really awesome to meet a person like you who has such an ingenius way of practicing languages.
      I also use that method as well.
      I try to think Chinese or English. And it works for me, I think.
      I tried to think Spanish once, but it failed because of lack of skill.
      I'm planning to start again anyway :)

      you've been in Korea! 만나서 반가워요~한국어 공부 어떻게 하셨나요?
      It's so amazing that you really enjoy learning languages.
      I love your passionate attitude.
      Think I'm already inspired by you.
      I should perk up lol

      Thank you for your lovely comment
      Liz
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        Dec 28 2013: Hi Liz, it's always great to meet fellow language enthusiast :)

        Actually I also tried Spanish, I couldn't mention it though since what I did was enroll in a class and stop attending after the second meeting or so.. 아무래도 저한테 언어공부는 마음문제인 것 같아요. 스페인어는 부디 "UN에 사용하는 언어중에 하나 더 배웁시다!" 그렇게 시작했거든요.. 성공적인 언어공부는 그 나라의 언어와 문화에 사랑에 빠진뜻 배워야지 된 것 같아요. 머.. 사람마다 다르겠지만요... ^^

        한국어공부도 관심부터 시작해서, 한국에서 살다 보니 필요성도 많이 느껴지죠.. 그리고 일하면서도 많이 늘었던 것 같아요.. 이제 인도네시아에 돌아니 좀좀 까먹을까봐 좀 걱정이에요 ^^

        I skimmed through the sea of han zi on the comments below. I really admire non-native Chinese speakers, even more those who can write in it. Your case with Spanish was my case with Chinese. Good luck!
        • Jan 6 2014: You’re really good :)
          I admire non-native Korean speakers for I know it’s one of the most difficult language to get used to.
          And you’re quite modest.
          고려대학교를 나오셨네요^^ 한국에 있는 동안 제일 기억에 남는 일은 뭔지 말해줄 수 있나요?
          사진 속 얼굴을 보니 정말 낙천적인 분 같아요.저도 사실 웃을 때 님처럼 그렇게 활짝 웃곤 하는데,저보다 훨씬 웃는 얼굴이 예쁘신 것 같네요 ^^ ㅎㅎ
          우리 서로 열심히 공부해서 진정한 language geek이 되보자구요ㅋㅋㅋ
          만나서 정말 반가워요~! 앞으로도 테드에서 좋은 인연 만들어가자구요~~!!
          (well, obviously we’realready am.)
          파이팅!!

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