I began with French as my mother tongue, but then English followed very closely after. So I guess I learned both languages well before the age of 11.
When I speak French or English, I speak them without any accent (other than a Canadian accent) so that epople are often surprised to learn English is not my first language.
But today, I earn nice money working as a simultaneous interpreter (English-French, French-English). This consists of sitting in a booth at a meeting or conference, listening to a speaker, and speaking the other language at the same time. You have to keep up with what is being said and not allow for more than a few seconds of lapse time.
I have no idea at all how my brain does it. It is like riding a bicycle or touch-typing. The minute you start to think about what you are doing you will screw up. With typing you just let the fingers and some mysterious part of your brain work together.
For some reason I do it much better if I close my eyes. And believe it or not, I have never received any formal training to become an interpreter, nor do I have a degree in translation.
At the age of 42, I decided to see how hard it was to learn a language since I had sort of fallen naturally into English and French. And I did not want anything easy like Spanish. So I took German.
Oh ja, Deutsch!!! They do not have their nouns divided up into masculine and feminine, nosiree Fritz! They have masculine feminine and neuter!
As you may know, the adjectives and the articles in French vary according to the gender of the noun. You say, “*Un * beau chien” but “une belle maison”.
Now then, nothing so simple for German, folks (or Volk). In the language of Schiller and Mozart, the article and the adjective vary not only according to gender but also according to the function of the noun in the sentence. It is a bit like the way English says “who” when it is the subject, but “whom” when it is the object.
However, German does this for every adjective and article.
A good man was there = **Ein guter ** Mann war dort
I saw a good man = Ich sah **einen guten ** Mann
I gave it to a good man = Ich habe es **einem gutem ** Mann gegeben.
Note how the article and the adjective change their endings in each case. And you thought French and Spanish were complicated!
So how did my adventure learning German work out? The answer is, surprisingly well. I have a theory as to why. I have heard it is much easier to learn a third or even fourth language than the second. I think I know why.
Our brains are programmed to assign the correct meaning to a word and keep it there. You were taught that that thing on hinges is a “door”. By keeping meanings and sounds clearly in order, you can speak and understand your native tongue.
But then, you try for a second language. Suddenly, you want your brain to understand that that thing is a “porte” or a “Tur”. Your brain immediately says, “Are you trying to screw me over? That there thing has been a “door” for the past 30 or 40 years, and now you tell me it isn’t?”
Once you speak a second language, though, your brain accepts that there are two different “sets” of sounds to convey reality. So if you now want it to accept that there is a third set, what the heck, why not, sez your brain. Anyhow, that is my theory.
Opinions or comments?