Mixing up languages

It’s been exactly 4 years and three months since I first went to Finland from Nepal for undergraduate studies. In these years, I spent the first 2.5 in Finland and the rest here in Poland. I had to take compulsory Finnish language course at the polytechnic in Finland for six credits, which is for about 3-4 months.

I wasn’t good at it, but I was interested. I wanted to understand what people talked about on the streets, what notices meant at the shops and so on. I was aware of how utterly different and difficult Finnish language is from other languages spoken in the region, but I wanted to feel included. I believe I approached the language in many wrong ways. Except watching some Finnish movies with English subtitles, I used no other practical ways of learning. I did try a few times to look at the coursebook and remember a few words, but that was such a bad approach as I am terrible at memorizing things blindly. Besides Finns and Nordic people in general having reputation of being extremely shy/introverted/laconic/hard to approach etc due to whatever reasons (I blame the more than half a year of snow and darkness, and hence how their culture evolved), my own introverted nature didn’t help in making regular Finnish friends. So, hearing and learning naturally through native speakers was out of question.

Over the next few months, I gradually lost interest. I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t like to live in cold, cold Finland long-term. Getting by everyday was easy with English. In fact, I don’t remember any situation where I NEEDED Finnish. However, some words stuck. Now that I have picked Polish much, much faster (thanks to boyfriend and the need to know the language to get by daily), also considered a very difficult language for a non-Slavic speaker, I sometimes find myself mixing words. I speak Nepali and English fluently and I know conversational Polish and Hindi, and some words and phrases from Finnish. So it’s really easy to mix up words subconsciously sometimes.

During summer, I wanted my boyfriend to wash the strawberries. And I just couldn’t remember any other word besides the Finnish word ‘mansikka’ for that. One day I found myself subconsciously looking for ‘voi’ (Finnish word for butter) at the supermarket until I realized that I had to look for ‘maslo’ instead (Polish word for butter). It’s been two years and it’s funny because I wasn’t even fluent in Finnish, yet I sometimes cannot remember words for random things in any other language besides Finnish. Same has happened with juusto, appelsiini and otto (Finnish for cheese, orange and ATM respectively) where I had to pause and think of the word in another language to make myself understood. Today I was creating a presentation slides at work and instead of the English word ‘Attention!’, I could only think of ‘Huom!’. All this after almost 2 years of leaving Finland.

Sometimes, it happens with Nepali and Polish words too. My mind just gets stuck on one word and I cannot seem to remember how it is called in another language. This mix-up of languages has given birth to mine and bf’s version of ‘Ponglish’ (the ratio is something like 60:40 in Polish and English in average) to communicate, because of which I often find myself to speak pure English harder these days. Knowing multiple languages can be a good way for brain stimulation but it’s also not easy. I am very fascinated by how bilingual children are raised and how they maintain the fluency in two or more languages.



20 thoughts on “Mixing up languages

  1. I can well understand you mixing words or languages because I’ve done the same often. What time are you going maati ? Nice to read your blog this morning, Pooja.

  2. When I studied in Finland i actually visited the Finnish course as well…and much further. I think I did six Finnish courses back then until I had b1 or b2 level, not sure anymore. My Finnish was pretty crappy when I moved to Finland so the courses helped that I could have some basic conversations in the end πŸ™‚

      1. Nah, my mom wasn’t allowed to speak Finnish with me when I got into kindergarten and couldn’t really speak German…good old times when growing up bilingual was considered bad in Germany

  3. Oh, I so get you there! I went through the same thing! And I’m still doing it! Sometimes it can be fun, other times, clearly not. For example, I was once in an exam and I was supposed to write some essay in French. I subconsciously wrote it in English. Some other time, I wrote a French word instead of an English one, in another essay that I had to read out loud in front of the class. And recently, I messed it up pretty badly with another language. The good thing is that whenever I talk to friends or a part of my family, they understand meβ€”most of the times?

  4. I enjoy reading your blog posts very much! You have a catching way of writing! πŸ˜‰
    The issue with mixing up languages just happened to me as well few days ago. While I was writing my dairy, I couldn’t remember one of the words in my own mother tongue. I have to say, at that time, I was rather shocked that this was possible. I couldn’t come up with the word until few hours later. At the same time, I enjoy learning new languages a lot, since, how you describe, they open doors to new worlds! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Jeanine πŸ™‚
      It happens with me all the time lately – the more Polish + English I speak the more Nepali I forget. It’s all down to everyday use I guess. I sometimes have to use google translate to remember some Nepali words :/

  5. Loved reading your post. I too am a bit intrigued as to bilingual children. They do mix up the languages they know and flit in and out of each when they speak, but they seem to work it out by the time they reach school. I would love to have a child’s ablity to learn second languages.

    1. It is very interesting indeed.. I don’t think I have personally met any bilingual children so far. I’ve just heard of some. There was a little boy with Nepali father and Finnish mother that I knew, and he spoke only Finnish from what I know. His mother is a Swedish-speaking Finn, but as far as I could tell both parents spoke exclusively Finnish with him and to each other. I think that it’s not easy to teach multiple languages to a child, but I think it’s worthwhile and a fascinating process as they tend to pick it quite well.

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