On Language Confusion: ภาษา Español

On Wednesday of this week I was called into an IEP meeting with absolutely no notice. The mother only spoke Spanish, so I switched immediately into Spanish mode as I often do in such situations. But this time, something odd happened: Thai invaded.

The mother asked me if there was any make-up work her daughter could do, and just before the “no” escaped my lips, my brain thought, loudly, “ไม่ค่ะ.” When I talked about how the student needed to go to tutorials, the word “ไป” tried to force its way out. In fact, for every single word I said in Spanish that I also knew in Thai (homework, seat, paper, a few others — my modest Thai vocabulary isn’t exactly up to talking about reading disabilities), the Thai word tried to escape. In two instances, it made me actually pause in my speech as I ferreted out the word I needed in the actual language I was speaking.

I’m not sure whether to be excited or worried. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic that my brain was able to retrieve Thai vocabulary when I wasn’t consciously trying, but I don’t know what it means overall for my Spanish maintenance. I do know that when I try to form sentences in Thai in the morning in my head, and I don’t know one or more words I need, the word always comes out in Spanish. Unless I’m talking with someone I know is bilingual, it wouldn’t cross my mind to pepper my Spanish with English — it simply isn’t an option. So why am I unconsciously filling in my Thai blanks with Spanish when the only people I intend to speak Thai with (save one) don’t speak a word of Spanish?

I’ve read often enough that adults store new languages in a different part of their brains than they store their native languages, so maybe it’s the simple matter of Spanish and Thai having taken up residence next to each other. No word for scrambled in (my) Thai lexicon? No problem! Revueltos is right there!

It’s an interesting phenomenon that I think I’ll keep track of. I’m pretty sure that once my Thai gets to a level that I no longer have to obsess over it and I don’t have quite so many gaping holes in my vocabulary, this will pass. Just in case, though, I’m rejoining my Spanish book club. 🙂

This entry was posted in Learning Multiple Languages, Learning Spanish, Learning Thai and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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