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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Languages Hide in the Brain?



This week I met a textile artist from Iceland and it triggered reminiscences. We lived in Iceland for two years in early 1970's. Icelanders speak fluent English and we lived in the military community, so language was not absolutely necessary. However, I signed up for a Conversational Icelandic Language course on the base and learned basic words. Enough to be polite.

Flash forward to the 1990's. By this time we had our two kids and were living in Germany for three years. The first few weeks we were there, I would open my mouth and out would come Icelandic words. Now, I had not even thought of these words since about 1974....but hearing another foreign language triggered something in my brain. Wow.

I could get by without the language in Germany, but life is easier with it. I took private lessons for a few weeks and learned to read recipes (surprise, surprise), read food labels, find my way by train, learn to drive on the autobahn, order bread in the bakery, etc, etc. My daughter learned songs and nursery rhymes (Grade 1-3), but I never heard her utter a word of German.

Now flash forward a few more years. I was in a local library here in Charlotte and standing near two ladies speaking in German to each other. A few minutes later I had the opportunity to say "excuse me" to the ladies and opened my mouth and out
came "Entschuldigung". I was stunned. Again, language hidden dormant in my brain, triggered by hearing a foreign language.

My daughter took formal German lessons beginning in 6th grade. I had the opportunity to "shadow" her one day and was sitting in her German class. The teacher asked a question and she raised her hand and out flowed beautiful, perfect German. I asked her two questions....1)WHERE did THAT come from????? and 2)why didn't you speak that German in GERMANY when we could have really benefitted!!!!! The language had also lain dormant in her brain.

So we think we forget things....but we don't.
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