Monday, November 23, 2009


I work at a health clinic that serves a lot of Spanish-speaking patients, so naturally we have a lot of Spanish-speaking workers on the clinic side of the place. Over on the administrative side, we have quite a few as well. It's a good thing to be bilingual, and I might become that if I ever spend much time in France, but unless I learn some Spanish grammar it's not going to happen for me in that language.

As a non-Spanish speaker (beyond the basics of Tourist-Spanish: Una cerveza mas, por favor), I get a kick out of my visits to the breakroom. The conversations--not just the people--are bilingual:

"Spanish, spanish, spanish... text messaging. Spanish, spanish... 'Who is this?' I mean, spanish, spanish, spanish..."

It makes it tough to follow the conversation, but that's OK, because it's not my conversation. And when I say, "Hi," and, "Goodbye," in Russian to the lady Russian doctor, the Spanish speakers don't understand me.

The real aftermath to these bilingual experiences is that I start thinking in French a bit. I've discovered that my brain has two language centers, one for English and another one for all the other languages together. When I move into the foreign language part of my brain to try to decipher some of the other people's conversations, I tend to stay there. Not on purpose, really. It's more like going out of town and then you find someplace in that town to eat a meal, and when you eventually get back home, you return to your normal meal routine. Well, French takes up the majority of the space in the foreign section of my brain, so that's what shows up in my thoughts while I'm there.

Except for one time back when I was taking Spanish for Medical Professionals. I wanted to say, "I don't know," but I didn't know how to say it in Spanish. What came to mind wasn't French, though. I thought, "Nie wiem." That's Polish for "I don't know." Not very helpful for the class, but they taught me to say, "No se."

OK, then. No se what to say next, so I'll just say, "Do svidaniya," or, "Do widzenia," or, "Adios," or, "Au revoir..."


Charlie said...

Two language centers - yes! I speak Spanish a lot in my work, and when I went to France for a vacation, although I'd studied French before going over, I kept finding myself reverting to Spanish when I was under pressure to make myself understood. The brain basically kept saying, "This obviously isn't English, so it has to be Spanish."

Tsofah said...

In high school I took two years of French. Then, they dropped French and replaced it with Spanish.

I was so totally confused!

My favorite phrases in French are, btw, "Je ne sais pas" ("I don't know"), and "Quelle heur at'il ?" ("What time is it?") - that is if I spelled the last one correctly.

It seems that the phrase "I don't know" is a universally needed statement! ;-D

SkyePuppy said...


Great to have you stop by again! The brain is such an amazing thing.


That last one would be: "Quelle heure est-il?" But I'm impressed that you remembered so well all the time since school!!!