Friday, March 18, 2011

some (more) thoughts on bilingualism....

Anybody who speaks two or more languages knows that bilingualism (or multilingualism) is a continuum. What does it mean to be fluent in another language? Does it mean you can carry on a conversation, or read, or interpret, or write in that language? If so, do you have to be able to converse about technical/scientific/legal/medical things, or is it okay if you only can get by in common speech? And what does it mean to be bilingual? Do you have to be equally comfortable in both languages to be truly bilingual? Different people have different definitions of the terms bilingual and fluent. For me, I know that I'm always learning, and that there's always a whole lot more that I can learn when it comes to my own bilingualism/fluency in Spanish. I can read, write, and speak Spanish, in a variety of subjects including a lot of technical/scientific/legal/medical terms. I can interpret for people, regardless of the speed and accent they use in Spanish. I can listen to and understand the TV and newspaper, I can write articles and papers in Spanish. I can read and understand technical works in Spanish. I can teach in Spanish, in a variety of subjects. Still, I "prefer" English in the same way that I prefer my left hand over my right hand. Although I could put the Spanish language track on in movies and listen to them dubbed in Spanish, and I could understand the movie that way, I wouldn't usually make that choice unless there were some other reason (extra practice, everyone else watching doesn't speak English, etc.). Similarly, I choose to read books almost exclusively in English.

I recently read THIS article that talks about these types of interesting bilingual things when it comes to thoughts and dreams.

One of the things that the article talks about is "what language do you think in?" I would say that I think mostly in English. However, when I'm talking with Elias or otherwise heavily immersed in Spanish, I think in both English and Spanish. This is fairly obvious when Elias and I are writing grocery lists. You should see my grocery lists. They are a hot mess of English and Spanish. The list usually looks like this

Leche de soya
cheddar cheese
artichokes in a can

You get the idea.

The article also talks about dreams. What language do you dream in? I would say that 80-90% of my dreams are entirely in English. (When I'm in the US... when visiting Colombia or another Spanish speaking country, that percentage goes down to maybe 50%). I have funny stories about dreaming in Spanish, though. Very rarely in my dreams am I actually speaking Spanish. Usually it's people who I know in Spanish speaking Spanish (Elias, for example.) I've also had dreams where people I know who don't speak Spanish in real life (my mom, for example) who are speaking fluent Spanish. Weird!

Another strange example from this week:
I've been having lots of nightmares and unpleasant dreams in the past 6 weeks or so. I think it has to do with stress and life changes, but Elias has been either waking me up when I start doing what he calls the "bad dream breathing," or I've been waking HIM up when I start shouting or thrashing about in the middle of a nightmare. A couple of days ago I was in the middle of a HORRIBLE nightmare involving Elias and I getting held hostage in Colombia. Everyone in the dream was speaking English (funny since we were allegedly in Colombia, but whatever). All of a sudden I realized that it was not real. So in my dream I started saying (in Spanish) just start shouting "pesadilla" (means nightmare) and Elias will wake up and help you. So in the dream I started shouting PESADILLA PESADILLA! All of the people in the dream didn't understand. As it turns out, though, I was actually shouting pesadilla and Elias did wake up and helped me out.

Cool, eh?

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

I can totally relate to this post...every bit of it. I'll have to try that "pesadilla" thing next time I'm having a horrible dream.

I think my funniest "bilingual" moment was while I was coming out of anesthesia from sinus surgery. My throat was KILLING me and I couldn't yet open my eyes. I was trying to ask for some help with the killer throat, but no one was helping me and they just kept telling me to calm down, that everything was ok. Only later did I realize that I'd been speaking Spanish and they were probably totally weirded out that I'd gone under speaking English and was waking up speaking Spanish. :)