10 symptoms of a multilingual brain

Hélène Rybol is the woman behind the Culture Shock Toolbox, a website for expats and international students – or future ones – and travelers, filled with musings, checklists and mantras. CLEW is happy to feature her “10 symptoms of a multilingual brain”.

  1. You don’t realize you’re changing languages several times in the same sentence.
  2. Speaking and switching between several languages feels like the most natural thing in the world and having to complete one sentence in one language actually requires concentration.

  3. The language you’re most comfortable with isn’t necessarily the one you grew up with.

© Ffatserifade | Dreamstime.com

© Ffatserifade | Dreamstime.com

  1. You pronounce names of foreign cities or places correctly (because you’d have to force yourself to pronounce them with an accent) and some people find you presumptuous.
  • Your brain easily decides between important and less important linguistic information. Although you do need grammar to be able to make yourself understood – there is a line beyond which the brain carefully selects what building blocks it needs to get the message across. Check out The Power of a Bilingual Brain for a fun read on the subject.

  • It feels weird when you’re in a place where everyone speaks the same language.

  • You’re thinking in language A but speaking language B so B comes out with the structure of language A and you get stuck. After several years in California, I wanted a family member to say hi to someone back home and asked them to “sag hallo” (literally ‘say hi’, not used in German) because I just couldn’t think of “Liebe Grüße”.

  • You’re speaking language A in the same tone as language B and later realize that you’re coming across as totally rude in language A. After living a year in Spain I ended up briefly speaking French in a tone similar to the one  Spanish-speakers use in Spain  – didn’t really work.

  • You’re speaking language A and words from language B slip in without you noticing, so you pronounce them in language A. Think ‘before’ pronounced à la Schwarzie.

  • You’re using words in language A that sound totally right to you but are actually from language B.

  • Can you relate? What does your multilingual brain do?

    This article was originally posted here (Culture Shock Toolbox July 2013)


    1. Sara says:

      The strange thing it happens to me is when I am in a country which language I don’t know, my brain picks Thai language to speak, the language I master less….funny !


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