Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Name for What I Suffer From

My English students here in France are sometimes surprised when I can't immediately find the English translation for a word that I understand perfectly in French. Sometimes it's because there isn't any real translation -- an excuse I may have hidden behind a few times, to tell the truth!

Other times, however, I just can't remember the English word. I knew it once, and would of course understand it immediately, but it isn't in my brain anymore. Apparently, this phenomonen is called first language attrition. According to researchers at the University of Oregon, our brains may close off access to our native language as we become fluent in a second language -- a type of compensation process.

I originally found this information from a press release on EurekAlert, a site devoted to scientific research news.

Now I know how to explain to my students why I'm not always a walking dictionary!

4 comments:

Samantha said...

Oh, I totally know what you mean - while interpreting, I often forget the English equivalent to words I know in French. Luckily the guy I work for finds it funny that I can't remember words in my native language.

Alison said...

Ha ha, I used to say "Il n'y a pas d'equivalent" to my students a lot. I've been doing a bit of writing in French these past couple of weeks (basically writing my Flickr daily diary entries in English, then in French, since there are a lot of francophone participants in the group).

It's been great as far as keeping up my French goes, but I've had to look up words that have slipped my mind. Perhaps there is second language attrition as well?!

Jann said...

I find I have a lot of things leaving my brain, too-and that's just with English! How wonderful to know the French language....

Anonymous said...

It happens to me too. I'm French and I live in France but I use the English language a lot at work and at home. My job implies that I sometimes send some information message both in English and French languages. Most of the times I write in English first, then the French version. I can't translate what I wrote first. I have to think it all again in my native language and give it a close meaning.