English, Spanish and French! Oh my!

I teach English, speak Spanish at home and am learning French.
In other words, my brain could combust at any moment.

My brain on three languages.

My brain on three languages.

I’ve always envied people who rattle off the languages they speak as if they were simply hobbies while I struggled to become proficient in just one foreign tongue. Is this the part where you expect me to say I’ve become one of those people?

Not even close! Learning a language is hard work!

I started learning Spanish in high school. But after years of not practicing, I became a bit rusty. When I moved to Chile two years ago, I found myself in an array of embarrassing situations as I mutilated the particularly difficult Spanish dialect of “Chilean.”

While I can now communicate with relative ease, just two weeks ago I asked my roommate when the butt-crack would be finished. (Some other interpretations of my blip also include much more vulgar names of other body parts.) Much to his amusement, he pretended like he couldn’t hear me over the handymen who were drilling outside our front door and asked me to repeat myself three times before correcting me. Between the giggles, he finally managed to say, I think you meant: “When will the gate be finished?”

As if fumbling through Spanish wasn’t enough, I started learning French in November! The Peace Corps asked me to start taking classes because they nominated me to serve in a French-speaking country. However, when my invitation came in late December, I learned I’ll instead be sent to The Gambia, an English-speaking country! Once there, I’ll be learning yet another language, one of the village dialects.

Since Gambia is in the middle of French-speaking Senegal, I decided to continue my French language lessons for now as I’m sure I can put them to use.

But some days, I feel like I don’t even know what language I am speaking as they all start to blend together. If I lack the word in French, I start speaking Spanish. If my Spanish vocabulary then fails me, English it is. I’ve said single sentences using all three languages.

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Wait? What language am I supposed to be speaking?

My French lessons are actually going quite well, considering I started at zero. I feel as if I’m progressing quickly thanks to my wonderful and patient professor who has recently been emphasizing the importance of improving my pronunciation. He just loves to point out every time I say fart in class.

People say that your fourth language is the easiest to learn. So watch out Gambian dialect!

Despite the difficulties, I do enjoy the challenge that teaching English and learning two other languages has brought into my life. My brain is always working overtime, analyzing structures and thinking of strategies to remember vocabulary.

Learning a language allows you to have broader perspectives and think more critically in various situations. If you’re lucky, you’ll even actually be able to speak the language one day! But if all practical benefits fail, at least you (and everyone around you) will get a good laugh from your inevitable blunders…that’s if your brain doesn’t explode first.

–JDF