Access denied

The other day, I wrote an e-mail in French. Or at least, I tried to.
The e-mail was about postponing a meet-up since I was already busy on the date proposed, so I wanted to write that most certainly I wouldn’t make it there in time. My e-mail writing process looked something like this:

Malheureusement, chyba nie potrafię… hey, wait a minute… this isn’t French. Again. What’s ‘chyba’ in French? I know the word, dammit. Dictionary. Ah, ‘probablement’. Next try. Probablement, je nie dammitdammitdammit ne potr… awwwwfuckit… n’arriverai pas à venir ce soir-là ponieważ… weil… since… dictionary… parce que!

To put it briefly: After having occupied myself with French now for more than ten years (which includes spending one academic year in France), it took me about 30 minutes and the extended help of Google and a Dictionary to write that I won’t make it to a meet-up.

What is wrong with me?

Nothing.

I just experienced a strong case of language interference.
Unlike German, English and Polish, I don’t use French on an everyday basis. I don’t have any problems when it comes to understanding the news in French, and in principle I can express myself in French quite comfortably (though I never learnt the more colloquial French).
So in principle, I am perfectly able to write a letter like the one above in about two minutes without the help of a dictionary. In practice however, I couldn’t access the knowledge. It was blocked by my Polish, just the way French blocked my Polish when I started getting involved with the latter (“w zasadzie nie, mais“).

Interestingly enough, I don’t experience this with English. As you can probably tell from my posts here, I can write quite decently in English (note that I didn’t say “flawlessly”). I hover around a C 1 level in English, whereas my Polish and French are both at about B 2. Moreover, I use English both passively and actively way more often than the other two languages. Consequently, English takes a special position in my brain somewhere in between my mother tongue and my other foreign languages.

So, what to do about those interferences?
Relax.
The language is still there, and the more you relax, give it time and some input, it comes back automatically – often quite quickly. Maybe you’ll still end up with meaningless gibberish from time to time when you try talking, but as we like to say in Germany, only Wayne will care about it.

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Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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