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froovyjosie's avatar

Why do we confuse languages?

Asked by froovyjosie (117points) June 6th, 2011

After taking a French exam today, I had a conversation with some of my classmates, and for some reason, words kept coming out in French! I noticed the same thing was happening to a few people – for example we were all saying “télé-réalité” instead of “reality tv”. Of course I realise the words are similar but is there any reason our brains replaced the English word with that of the French? It was very amusing, but weird to find foreign words coming out of my mouth without my permission!

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10 Answers

krrazypassions's avatar

As we go about using our brain, the synaptic connections between the neurons break and form all the time- new connections are made while old ones might be broken… thats how we remember some things very quickly and forget some others.. thats also why practice makes us perfect- stronger and persistent synaptic connections are formed as we get accustomed to specific things…
So, with the synaptic connections particularly strong between neurons that had processed and stored French language while you prepared for the exam, you tend to remember and use French words more involuntarily..

in other words, we can also say, that like the computer has a RAM or main memory to store recent and relevant data, you also have a main memory that had especially stored French words… the rest of the memory is in the hard drive… so if you have to study for a Spanish exam, you will send the French data to your hard drive and retrieve Spanish data into your memory for easy and quick reference during exam!

JLeslie's avatar

My experience is we tend to use a specific language with specific people. So, using French, or some French with your friends from French class is not surprising. Also, when you spend a lot oftime in one language it is easy to resort to the language without noticing, thinking first in that language. Another thing is certain things that are learned in a particular language might alway be how you think of that subject. For instance almost everyone I know who is fully bilignual still always does math in their mother tongue.

I text in Spanglish, I use whatever word is shorter. Certain words and phrases my husband and I use the Spanish, just because it has become habit. Bubble, hole, I told you so, even though we almost never use Spanish otherwise. But, when he talks to his siblings they always speak Spanish with each other, even though they are all fully bilingual, because that is the language of the family. Even when English speaking people are in the conversation, and they are always polite to use English, they many times slip into Spanish, especially when they are speaking about a memory from their childhood.

mattbrowne's avatar

The neurons dealing with two foreign languages are very close. Only the native language resides in a more distant region in our brain’s language center. In fact it’s possible for a native speaker to lose the ability to speak his or her native language because of a head injury in a accident. I heard of a case of one German who could only speak English when he woke up after a coma which was the result of a serious head injury.

It’s easy to confuse Italian and Spanish for example.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I know two people who came to the US in their teens and barely remember their first langauge, because they never use it. This happens frequently when children are under the age of 10, but I was surprised it happened to children in their mid to late teens.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – Yes, but with an effort it can be reactivated.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Not very scientifical, but just from my own observations of having lived in France and Italy and now having three different languages in my brain, I feel kind of like my brain is a filing cabinet. Languages are in one particular drawer and the more I use any one language, it feels like it gets filed in front of the other ones.

So, I used to be fluent in French, but I haven’t used it much over the past 15 years or so, so it’s somewhat buried. I find when I try to speak French, Italian comes first.

gailcalled's avatar

I studied both advanced French and Spanish at the same time in college. Half the time I didn’t know what I was saying. Writing was easier because I could brood.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Maybe it has to do with the Bleeding Effect.

According to fellow Jelly Axemusica, A Bleeding Effect is when you’re through with the event or simulation and there’s a lingering effect on you. As if the event or simulation bled over into you, leaving a sense that you’re either still in the simulation or it’s come back with you.

Zyx's avatar

Being familiar with about 10 languages I can safely say making mistakes isn’t inherent to switching languages.

laureth's avatar

For my work, I have to know a certain specialized vocabulary of words, but in many languages. If I’ve been spending my day doing the foreign work, I begin to parse languages more easily, too, even between similar languages (like the Romance family). And it occurred to me one day that really, they’re all just dialects of the same language, separated by time and distance.

For example, Latin spread with the Romans. Once it was well-settled in places like Gaul and Hispania, it eventually became what we call French and Spanish: separate languages now, but also like dialects of Latin. And English is the language that Norman knights came up with to try to arrange dates with Saxon barmaids, the bastard child of a Latin dialect (Norman French) and a Germanic dialect (Anglo-Saxon). And both Latin and Germanic languages are dialects of the (reconstructed to some degree) Indo-European root language.

So, give Americans a while to splinter and have their regional dialects morph into separate but related languages of their own, and someday our great-great grandkids will be “confusing” you all and y’all. ;)

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