Did you know that when you learn new languages, it becomes more difficult to remember how to say things in your native language? It’s true.
For example: It is pretty common to, when learning a third language, substitute a word you can’t think of or don’t know for one from your second language.
Or… in my case, you just can’t speak coherently for the most part, in any language. I am a pretty good writer, and when it comes to being on the phone, I manage to function well. But what I’ve found is that the older I get, the more difficulty I have expressing myself accurately in English. This language barrier can become a problem, because everybody else in my household only speaks English.
I say all kinds of crazy things. Usually, my antics involve coming up with the word in other languages, talking like Ricky Ricardo, and then finishing with an incoherent string of English words that begin with the right letter but are not the right word, followed by my own version of sign language that probably makes no sense to anybody but me.
Take yesterday, for example. I was working diligently to tell The Wee Little Miss something about the toilet. (I have no idea what it was that was.) I couldn’t come up with “toilet” — I said a few words that started with the letter T, but was unable to manage the correct term.
The Wee Little Miss looked at me strangely. She eventually figured out what it was I was trying to say, and told me. Later on that night, I was trying to tell The Hubbster about the incident; clearly, when a linguist forgets how to use language, the linguist’s spouse should be notified just in case of … well, anything. Alzheimer’s, dementia, general dribbling out the ear of one’s brain, and so on. Well… I couldn’t remember what words I had used to say toilet. Like, at all.
I went and inquired of The Wee Little Miss what words I had substituted for the desired one. The following conversation is something I will never forget.
Me: “Hey, kiddo. What word did I use when I was trying to say ‘toilet’ earlier?”
Me, knowing for sure that I had used more than one word besides “tub”: “T. Tuh. Toe?”
WLM, looking at me like I’ve finally, completely lost it, but also completely seriously: “No…….. tuuuuuuubbbbbb. TUBBBBB. TUUUUUUUBBBBB.”
My poor kid thought I had finally gone far enough off the deep end that I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the word “tub”. It was like that scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail when Bedivere, when trying to bully the old woman about finding a shrubbery, keeps saying “Nu” instead of “Ni”, and King Arthur instructs him on the proper pronunciation.
Poor thing. Nope, I’m not that out of it. Yet.