how strange language can be

Funny stories about your learning experiences. Mondegreens, Silly mistakes, Jokes, Riddles and all kinds of fun stuff. Strange things you noticed about differences and similarities between Dutch and English (or German, French, Swahili, ..).

how strange language can be

Postby Dutch_Person » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:01 pm

Just a little tale about how langauge can sometimes surprise you...

Many years ago I was in a Chinese restaurant waiting for my take-away food. The owner of the restaurant and his daughter were having a discussion. I found it very strange to hear the father speak Chinese to his daughter to whom she replied in Dutch! Obviously she was born in The Netherlands and understood Chinese but she never learned to speak it herself.

A little while later I was thinking of that discussion again when, with a little shock, I realized it was not very different for me!

My parents were born and raised in Limburg and therefore learned both standard Dutch at school and their own dialect outside of it. The Limburgish dialect is quite different from the other dialects because, contrary to English and Dutch, it did undergo changes during the second Germanic sound shift.
My parents moved to Noord-Brabant and a few years later my brother and I were born. Between themselves my parents speak Limburgish but to us they speak Dutch. The result of that is that we learned to understand Limburgish but never to speak it. When visiting relatives in Limburg we are often spoken to in Limburgish, but we will reply in Dutch...not so different from the Chinese father and his daughter after all...
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby kwalijkje » Sat Jan 19, 2008 5:59 pm

I do the same thing now with Dutch. My speaking is not even half as good as my writing because I get so little opportunity to practise. But working in a hostel I do hear a lot of people talking to each other in Dutch. I find it hilarious when they're speaking to each other, not expecting people around them to understand, and I talk back to them in English. The Dutch get very confused when an Englishman understands their language; I guess it happens that rarely.

It is very unusual to hear people speaking to each other in seperate languages. I've got two French friends who both speak perfect French and English and they jump in and out of each language like linguistic Hokey Cokey. Living in London I hear this quite often, but it gets very bizare when you get combinations of languages like Polish, German and Japanese in the same conversation. :eek: :D

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Re: how strange language can be

Postby Quetzal » Sat Jan 19, 2008 6:51 pm

At lunch the other day, a few people were sitting close to me, and I heard one of them speak English (not really spectacularly good English, and it was clear she was Flemish). So I figured the person opposite from her would be a foreigner. But then a bit later the same woman spoke Flemish, and the other replied in Flemish, both obviously native speakers. And for the rest of their conversation, they kept switching back and forth between Flemish and their so-so English... it was bizarre.

But as to switching languages mid-conversation, I do that often enough, sometimes even in posts here...
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby kwalijkje » Sat Jan 19, 2008 7:41 pm

I can put a term to this ability to switch between languages (Heh, I learnt something at Uni :)). It's called code-switching. I think it's incredible that people can do this, think and speak fluidly and fluently in two languages simultaneously, it shows an amazing ability for unconscious lateral thinking. I can already feel it starting to happen with Dutch, but only with a couple of words. Like 'of' and 'maar'; I'm vaguely aware of my mind making a descision between the English or the Dutch words. Sometimes it doesn't always work though, lol. It befuddles my work colleagues when I unknowingly ask them if they want 'tea of coffee', especially since they already think I'm strange for sometimes making Choffee (hot chocolate and coffee). 8) Heh.
A question to those who speak two languages fluently; Do you mix and match words from each language while you're thinking, or is there a clear distinction between the fact that you're using two languages?
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby Quetzal » Sat Jan 19, 2008 8:34 pm

kwalijkje wrote:I can put a term to this ability to switch between languages (Heh, I learnt something at Uni :)). It's called code-switching. I think it's incredible that people can do this, think and speak fluidly and fluently in two languages simultaneously, it shows an amazing ability for unconscious lateral thinking. I can already feel it starting to happen with Dutch, but only with a couple of words. Like 'of' and 'maar'; I'm vaguely aware of my mind making a descision between the English or the Dutch words. Sometimes it doesn't always work though, lol. It befuddles my work colleagues when I unknowingly ask them if they want 'tea of coffee', especially since they already think I'm strange for sometimes making Choffee (hot chocolate and coffee). 8) Heh.
A question to those who speak two languages fluently; Do you mix and match words from each language while you're thinking, or is there a clear distinction between the fact that you're using two languages?


Actually mixing the languages, unintentionally using words from the one in the other, that happens very rarely for me. It's more that when I speak several different languages in one place, or with a given person, I sometimes unconsciously switch, in writing anyway. It doesn't happen when I'm writing to a person I always speak the same language to, or in a context where I only ever use one language. Don't remember it ever happening in spoken conversation, either, though sometimes I came close - catching myself only at the moment before opening my mouth. There, too, location and context is important: it's happened a few times between Arabic and Spanish, not exactly similar languages, but which I both have class of in the same building, so apparently they're linked in my mind and Arabic words come to mind when I want to say something in Spanish in class.
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby Dutch_Person » Sat Jan 19, 2008 10:14 pm

kwalijkje wrote:A question to those who speak two languages fluently; Do you mix and match words from each language while you're thinking, or is there a clear distinction between the fact that you're using two languages?


When I speak English I form sentences straight away without first thinking them up in Dutch (my mother tongue). So yes, there is a clear distinction.
Having both native colleagues and English-speaking (Portuguese) colleagues means I switch between English and Dutch frequently, as a result it occasionally happens that a Dutch word slips into my English conversation nearly unnoticed. Like kwalijkje I too sometimes swap 'or' for of and maar for 'but'.
It seems to me that your brain gets somewhat rewired when you read and speak another language frequently. When writing or speaking Dutch I sometimes catch myself forming sentences which have a rather English 'feel' to them (esp. caused by word order). But I must say that - contrary to most Dutch - I actually find reading English easier than reading Dutch (e.g. "The Lord of The Rings" I read in English, not in Dutch). It's hard to explain why...
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby BrutallyFrank » Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:27 pm

kwalijkje wrote:I can put a term to this ability to switch between languages (Heh, I learnt something at Uni :)). It's called code-switching. I think it's incredible that people can do this, think and speak fluidly and fluently in two languages simultaneously, it shows an amazing ability for unconscious lateral thinking. I can already feel it starting to happen with Dutch, but only with a couple of words. Like 'of' and 'maar'; I'm vaguely aware of my mind making a descision between the English or the Dutch words. Sometimes it doesn't always work though, lol. It befuddles my work colleagues when I unknowingly ask them if they want 'tea of coffee', especially since they already think I'm strange for sometimes making Choffee (hot chocolate and coffee). 8) Heh.
A question to those who speak two languages fluently; Do you mix and match words from each language while you're thinking, or is there a clear distinction between the fact that you're using two languages?

I don't use languages simultaneously, it's like I shift into some code that seems most suitable for the things I hear. For instance: when I hear someone from the southeast part of Limburg talk, I have to shift into a German code. It resembles German so much, that I will understand most parts of the conversation if I consider it to be German.

When it comes to English: I often encounter words that seem to cover my thoughts better than any Dutch word. I won't use it in a conversation, but I'm extremely aware of the limits of my own language.

Strange thing is: I often try to adapt to people I hear speaking. But it's sometimes strange to discover that it's my native language (after going through all the other options) ... :o


I do speak Standard Dutch to some aunts, because that's the language they speak among the family. But originally they spoke French, because my grandmother was from the french-speaking part of Belgium. They learnt Dutch at school and dialect on the streets.
Although a few of my cousins spoke French to their mother, at my home we never spoke French. My father worked at the border for a transportation company and had to speak French all day long. So when he got home, he didn't want to speak French as well. I still don't know if that's a blessing: I really want to discover that part of my roots, but even though I heard a shitload of French it's still not a language I really mastered ......
Only after a few glasses of beer ... than I'll be able to speak any language (avec les mains et les pieds) :D


When I was in the army, some soldiers learnt to speak Russian (our enemy back then). BUT they only learnt to understand the language by listening to it, not by speaking it!
"Moe nie worrie nie, alles sal reg kom" (maar hy het nie geseg wanneer nie!)

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Re: how strange language can be

Postby kwalijkje » Tue Feb 05, 2008 3:38 pm

Heh, I just thought I'd mention this.
There are a pair of Dutch sisters staying in my hostel. I noticed after a while that niether of them seemed to speak any Dutch. So I asked them about it. Apparently they prefer to communicate in English with each other, even though they both grew up speaking Dutch and can both still talk it.
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby Marijke Rose » Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:10 pm

I have something to share about my experiences here in Germany. So, first, I speak English as my mothertongue, however, have learned German pretty well.

Now, I never presume that people I run into are going to be able to speak English, so I simply speak German. Once in a great while, I come across someone who DOES speak English and, somewhere along the lines after having spotted and recognised my accent, they switch to English. At first, I simply will not notice this and will continue responding in German until it occures to me that we are NOT actually speaking the SAME language and that THEY would probably appreciate my allowing them the opportunity to practice their English, and switch over to English. This once when on to the point where a friend of mine switched to English on me and we held an entirely bilingual (and broken, I'm sure) converstaion before it finally dawned on me that "Hey, he's speaking English! Oh, duh, he can even UNDERSTAND English!"...

What I've noticed, is that it's a question of their abilities. If a person speaks fully fluent, accent-free (well, not accent-free, but like a native or something) English to me, then I will have trouble speaking German to THEM, like I'll forget it momentarily; but if they speak with a German accent or have otherwise obvious difficulties, my brain will think I should respond in German for matters of clarity and I will, momentarily, forget how to speak English (even though I understand them flawlessly).


A little more on topic, though: My children have learned both languages (German/English, in our case), but prefere to speak German. So, we can be playing in the park and have bilingual conversations (with me speaking English and them speaking German).

Before my children started Kindergarten and discovered that 'all' children speak German, my four-year-old used to actually respond to ME in English (and assumed that any other child who wasn't speaking German, must be speaking English, even if he was actually speaking Russian).
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby Polyhymnia » Sun Sep 19, 2010 6:03 pm

kwalijkje wrote:Heh, I just thought I'd mention this.
There are a pair of Dutch sisters staying in my hostel. I noticed after a while that niether of them seemed to speak any Dutch. So I asked them about it. Apparently they prefer to communicate in English with each other, even though they both grew up speaking Dutch and can both still talk it.


My Dutchie's cousin prefers English. She was born here in the Netherlands, but lived in Norway and Cyprus for a while as a young adult, then married a guy from Northern Ireland and lived there a few years. Her accent is VERY Irish even though she's back home now. She says she thinks in English, dreams in English...she just prefers it...

Doesn't help me a BIT, lol, but at least I have one extended family member who doesn't ignore me or wag their finger at me for not being fluent...
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby fabriciocarraro » Wed Oct 19, 2011 1:23 pm

That's a really interesting subject!

I'm brazilian, thus my native language is Portuguese, but I also speak English and some other languages. My wife is russian, and she speaks Portuguese fluently, but she's not comfortable with English.

It was VERY funny when I went to Russia, talking to her sister or her russian friends. Me and her spoke to each other in Portuguese, because it's our "common" language, but when talking to her friends, I spoke in English, and when she was talking to her friends, she spoke in Russian. So, in like 5 minutes we could speak 3 different languages, depending on the combination. It was crazy , but fun! =P
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby AppelstroopIsLekker » Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:27 am

I do the same thing with Limburgs and Dutch. I'm American, and the family I married into speaks exclusively South Limburgs to each other. They speak Limburgs to me, and I reply back in Dutch. I would learn it if I could but with the lack of resources on the grammar which can be quite complicated (and quite diverse) its quite difficult.

I know a lot of other people in Limburg that do the same thing as you. I think it's sad. It's unique amongst the other dialects and it's still one of the strongest and most widly-spoken minority dialects /languages (depending on which organization and linguist you consult :P ) in the Nederlands taalgebied, but less and less people are speaking it.
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby AppelstroopIsLekker » Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:29 am

Polyhymnia wrote:
kwalijkje wrote:Heh, I just thought I'd mention this.
There are a pair of Dutch sisters staying in my hostel. I noticed after a while that niether of them seemed to speak any Dutch. So I asked them about it. Apparently they prefer to communicate in English with each other, even though they both grew up speaking Dutch and can both still talk it.


My Dutchie's cousin prefers English. She was born here in the Netherlands, but lived in Norway and Cyprus for a while as a young adult, then married a guy from Northern Ireland and lived there a few years. Her accent is VERY Irish even though she's back home now. She says she thinks in English, dreams in English...she just prefers it...

Doesn't help me a BIT, lol, but at least I have one extended family member who doesn't ignore me or wag their finger at me for not being fluent...


I have also run into a few people like this while I was living in the Netherlands. Some people I met really had a disdain for their own native language, which I will never understand. I think it's a cultural difference between the Dutch and the Flemish, as I have met many people who were fond of the English language in Belgium, but never substituted or preferred it for their own native language.
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby cruyff7 » Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:12 am

I'm going to be a bit weird and revive this thread after months of inactivity to add that I do this too (quite frequently, in fact), and it still doesn't cease to amaze me how my brain doesn't spontaneously combust, or erm, get a bit tired after a while. My sister and I do this all of the time, switching back and forth from Serbian to English up to a couple of times per sentence/thought. That said, I think the most I've ever done at once is talk in English/Serbian to my mother, all the while writing a report in French and listening to German music. Thank you to kwalijkje for enlightening me as to what this is called - kind of want to look into it now! :-D
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Re: how strange language can be

Postby mister » Sat Aug 09, 2014 11:00 am

Oddly, I find myself mentally saying words and sentences in Dutch, after saying or writing them in English.

Eg. Doing paperwork at work I wrote the word Away then immediately thought Weg. In fact, writing this sentence I immediately thought onmiddellijk when writing immediately, zin, ik, and so on. I'll say I don't know but think ik weet het niet right after. My brain just making the connections.

But as for language flipping... I used to do a lot of work for Zimbabwe students. They would interject English words into their mother tongue convesation. To me, it sounded like... blah blah blah table blah blah stairs blah blah blah today blah blah. They all did it. I asked them about it and they said they hadn't noticed they did it.
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