English/not-English

September 16 2013; AT5 = 1051 hours; total time = 1989 hours; TV = 355.3 hours

At some point after I started learning Thai I noticed that my ability to say things in French was taking a hit. Granted, my French is really rusty – it’s been over 20 years since I’ve used the language for anything more than light / brief conversation, and very infrequently at that.

But sometimes, meeting French-speakers in Thailand, I’ve given it a shot. My comprehension abilities are pretty modest at this point, as are my speaking abilities – no surprise there, given the years of disuse – but I can still carry on a simple conversation.

What’s interesting is that when I’m trying to say something in French, a fairly large number of the words that I come up with are Thai. The French words are harder to access, while Thai springs readily to mind.

I usually catch myself in time to not actually use the Thai words; but still, reaching for French, I often come up with Thai.

Occasionally things go the other way – I reach for Thai and come up with French – but this seems only to happen when I’m thinking in Thai, never while actually speaking, and with far less frequency than the unintentional Thai-for-French substitutions. (Predominantly, I think in English; thinking in Thai is mainly just for kicks, a way of playing with the language, though I do sometimes find myself mentally rehearsing something that I’m going to need to say).

It’s like the primary division in my mind is between English on the one hand and everything else on the other – words are either English or not-English. Since arriving in Thailand a couple years ago the overwhelming majority of the not-English situations that I’ve found myself in have been Thai, so I guess not-English has increasingly come to mean Thai – but not totally. Apparently my Thai isn’t sufficiently developed to get its own separate grouping; instead it’s just lumped in with all the other not-English words in my head. So sometimes I mix up or mix together bits of not-English which are actually from totally different languages.

When I need to draw upon my not-English, it’s the Thai words that pop up so readily, presumably because they’ve gotten such a good workout these past two years; the French words, sluggish from over two decades of disuse, are much more difficult to summon.

The image that comes to mind is of a glass of soda: the bigger bubbles easily break away and make it to the surface, while the smaller underdeveloped bubbles either slowly inch along or just stay where they are, stuck to the sides of the glass.

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