I was trying to speak Spanish to someone the other day and as my brain reached for the Spanish word for garbage can, out tumbled German like a pair of dirty underwear at an airport security screening.
“Oh, I mean…uh…” I fumbled, embarrassed My German hung awkwardly between me and the confused Mexican woman as I tried to think of a way to explain why a Germanic language had suddenly taken my Spanish language skills hostage.
“Sometimes…my head…” I said in staccato Spanish. I shrugged and smiled. Unfortunately my limited Spanish did not extend itself into conversations involving brain science.
But after I got home and did a little research, however, I found out that second (third, fourth) languages are all stored in the same area of the brain (separate from your mother language).
If those findings are anything to go by, then I can only imagine that the part of my brain that’s storing the bits of Japanese, German and Spanish I’ve collected over the years is now overflowing with a messy clutter of verb conjugations, noun articles and “Excuse me, could you please tell me how to get to the train station?”
Eric Weiner writes about this phenomenon in his book “Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine” (good book, by the way). He and an American woman named Sandie are on a Taoist retreat in China when they stop by at a local bar. Weiner writes (on page 211):
“Sandie orders two beers in Chinese. She doesn’t speak real Chinese but, rather, a kung-fu dialect she’s cobbled together from watching Taiwanese movies. This she supplements with energetic hand gestures and, oddly, French. Every time Sandie tries to speak Chinese her college French pops up like an old boyfriend she hasn’t thought about in years. Anyway, it works, and shortly two large bottles of Purity beer arrive.”
Has this ever happened to you? What did you do?
That handmade necklace pictured above is available through Etsy.com.
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