Language Nightmares

Arnaly Arriaga

Learning a new language can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging and frustrating at times. One common issue that many language learners face is the tendency to confuse their native language with the language they are learning. In this blog post, we will explore the reasons why this happens and offer some tips to help you overcome this challenge.
It's no secret that I studied music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada - an exciting city where there is always something happening. However, the most amazing thing about the city is its multiculturalism. People from all over the world call Montreal their home, and the city's unique way of embracing diversity is truly special. I moved to Montreal with my brother; he was studying to be a chef, and I was pursuing my passion for music. It was the perfect fit. The coolest thing was that I could speak Spanish with my brother, English at the university, and French in the city. Then, I decided to learn Portuguese - and that's where things got interesting.
As an aspiring musician, I was fascinated by Brazilian music and wanted to learn Portuguese as a way to connect with its culture. For those who don't know, Brazilian music - or MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) - is a genre of its own, filled with wonderful harmonies, amazing rhythms, and great composers. I could talk about it for pages and pages! I started frequenting bars where Brazilian music was played and met many people, not only from Brazil, but also from Portugal, Mozambique, and Angola. I made some great Brazilian friends whose passion was to rent VHS tapes of "Brazilian Novelas" and watch them together. These are Brazilian soap operas that my mom and I used to watch in Venezuela, dubbed in Spanish. Between the novellas, talking to my friends, and listening to Brazilian songs, I learned Portuguese.

However, all those languages started mixing up in my head, and it led to some embarrassing moments. One day, I was in class, and the teacher was talking about cadences. He asked a question, and I answered, "That is a retarded cadence," to which the class laughed. Luckily, the teacher spoke French too (cadence retardée in French or cadencia retardada in Spanish), and he replied, "You mean a delayed cadence?" I looked at him as if he had saved my life, which, in a way, he did.

Another day, I was at my brother's friend's house, and we were cooking tacos. I asked if he would like me to "rape the cheese," which in French means grated cheese (fromage râpé). It seems funny now, but my face had never been more red than on that day.

There were many other occasions when my four languages got mixed together and made me look like a fool. I got used to laughing at myself and moving on, until one day, I had a nightmare. In my dream, I was in Europe, and I was the big shot using my four languages. I was called to MC a big event, and just as I was about to start talking, I couldn't remember the word I was going to say in Spanish, my native language! It was such a horrible nightmare; I would have rather dreamed of being eaten alive by a shark!

Why do we confuse languages?

The reason why we may confuse our native language with the language we're learning is that our brain naturally tends to use the linguistic patterns and structures that we are most familiar with. When we are first learning a new language, we often try to translate the words and phrases from our native language into the new language, and this can lead to confusion and mistakes. Additionally, if we are not fully immersed in the language we're learning, we may not be exposed to enough authentic input to develop a good understanding of the language's structure and vocabulary.

Tips to help you overcome language confusion

1. Immerse yourself in the language

One of the most effective ways to avoid confusing your native language with the language you're learning is to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. This can be done by listening to music, watching movies or TV shows, reading books, and engaging in conversation with native speakers. By immersing yourself in the language, you'll become more comfortable with its structures and patterns and will be less likely to rely on your native language.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Another important tip is to practice as much as possible. The more you practice, the more natural the language will become to you. This can include speaking with native speakers, practicing writing, and listening to the language. Try to use the language in everyday situations, even if it's just speaking to yourself. The more you practice, the more confident you'll become, and the less likely you'll be to confuse your native language with the language you're learning.

3. Learn the language's structure and vocabulary

It's essential to learn the structure and vocabulary of the language you're learning. This can help you avoid translating words and phrases from your native language and help you think in the language you're learning. By learning the language's structure and vocabulary, you'll be able to form sentences more naturally, and you'll be less likely to make mistakes.

4. Seek help from a tutor or language partner

If you're struggling with language confusion, consider seeking help from a tutor or language partner. A tutor can help you understand the language's structure and vocabulary and can provide you with feedback on your pronunciation and grammar. A language partner can help you practice speaking and can provide you with a more immersive experience.

5. Find some friends natives to the language you are learning

Nothing is more fun than to have friends, but even more fun is to laugh at yourself when you make silly mistakes. Remember, when learning a language, you have to forget perfectionism. We tend to say many weird things that can be quite embarrassing unless we are with good friends. 
Learning a new language is a challenging but rewarding experience. Confusing your native language with the language you're learning is a common challenge, but it's not insurmountable. By immersing yourself in the language, practicing as much as possible, learning the language's structure and vocabulary, and seeking help when needed, you can overcome this challenge and become fluent in the language you're learning.

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