8 Problems Bilinguals Run Into

Bilinguals are awesome! We know two languages and are able to understand both with no problem. Well, not exactly. Even though we know that we are awesome, us bilinguals run into many problems just like anybody else. So, if you are here to have a laugh or are learning a new language and want to understand what awaits you, here is a list of problems that you might relate to or are in store for as a bilingual.

1. Mixing languages

So you are casually speaking in one language, when without thinking you say something in the other language. Your friend looks at you like you are crazy, but no need to get embarrassed because this happens all the time! Mixing languages is a normal occurrence and this usually happens when you have a dominant language, or a language in which you are exposed to more than the other.

In my case, I am exposed to English the most in my every day life, however, I speak Spanish at home and therefore I mix those two languages predominately with my parents. You see, I will be saying something in Spanish and then without thinking switch to English. Just take a deep breath and focus on the language you are speaking!

2. Language fluency delay

We have probably all experienced this. When we are telling an exciting story in one language, we might forget some words in that language and thus continue the story in another language. This is called language fluency delay and it is extremely common. This means that in that language you are speaking you might not have sufficient vocabulary. You know what helps with that? You guessed it, reading! Reading in that language can immensely grow your vocabulary and naturally your fluency!

3. Preferring one language over the other

It is completely normal to want to function in one language over the other. After all, you have more experience and exposure in one language over the other.

In my family, we sometimes speak Spanish. Since, my brother and I were both raised in the United States, it has caused us to choose English over Spanish. However, we both try to speak with our parents as much as we can in Spanish to not only make our parents happy, but so we can have another language secured under our belts! Although we prefer to speak, read, and write in English, we try our best to keep up the fluency in the other language.

4. Reading and writing

Speaking comes naturally to many bilinguals. However, when it comes to reading and writing, you need a lot more brain power to write an advanced and grammatically structured sentence or comprehend a difficult text in that second language. It is inevitable that you will be stronger in one language over the other.

Many of my friends can speak two languages, however, can write in English with more confidence than in the language that is spoken at home by their parents. However, this can be improved by practice, practice, and practice!

5. Passive bilingual

Do you understand the language, but do not speak it? The good news is you are also considered to be bilingual! People who cannot speak, yet understand the language have their own reasons as to why it is so. However, the most common reason why passive bilinguals struggle with speech is because they did not have much exposure to the language.

If you live in the United States, yet have parents from Spain, then you might have more exposure to English then Spanish. In other words, you are taught to communicate in English to get around which as a result, is easier to pick up. Compared to Spanish which you are exposed to only in your household which might be hard to maintain. However, do not fret, because you can solve this problem by exposing yourself more to that language, whether that it is by watching a movie or spending some time in that country!

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6. People guess where you are from

Foreign mothers can never seem to get off the phone with you, especially when you are in public. They always seem to have something important to say to you when you are standing among many people. They seem to take it personally if you do not respond with a yes or no. In these situations its hard to say sí without at least one or two people glancing over their shoulder and asking you the most infamous question of where you are from. Most of the time it is an interesting question to answer, but sometimes us bilinguals just want to be left alone and answer the questions of our parents on the phone in peace!

7. People ask you to say some swear words

“So you speak Spanish, can you teach me some swear words?”, says almost everyone who finds out that you are bilingual. Now, this situation can be a little tricky because essentially you are teaching someone a swear word in your language, which might not mean anything to them. I would advise that you not teach your friend these words while having them over because these words have an ill presence in your household, especially to your parents. But, always remember that learning swear words is also a part of the language learning and practicing process!

8. Acting as the translator

Family events can be somewhat daunting for us. Imagine this, you are attending a holiday dinner where you are fully aware of the fact that all of your close Spanish speaking relatives will be attending. You make the dangerous decision to bring your partner, who only speaks English, to the event so they can become fully acquainted with you and your family.

By this moment, all eyes are on you and your partner and this is where the flock of questions swarm you in absolute terror! As both a Spanish and English speaker, you are sat on the couch, drink in hand, translating almost every question to your partner in English. While some go to family holidays dinners to relax and spend quality time with their family members, for you this is considered to be another 9-5 work day!

Have you run into any of these problems? We would love to hear them!

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Sophie Guerrero

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