The bilingual challenge
I have written about the interesting differences in cultural perception of the same objects, or rather of the same words. I have always been fascinated by the easiness with which I navigate from one language to another, namely French and English. And I am equally fascinated by the difficulty I have to do the same thing with German, which could probably be tagged as my third language.
Here I am for example, sitting in the waiting room of a German doctor, writing in English, while understanding the radio in the background in German, and recalling to write this note the words I have just read in French. I am reading a book about bilingualism "Le défi des enfants bilingues", to try and understand what Tuinkel will have to go through with a French mother and a German father. I am just at the beginning, but there is one image the author recalled which really lit my understanding of what bilingualism could be all about.
The first part of the book tries and defines bilingualism, to come to the conclusion that there are probably as many bilingiulisms as there are bilingual people. In short, it is very difficult to pinpoint when exactly someone can be considered "bilingual". It is also very difficult to actually compare the degrees to which one person masters two languages. Mainly because this measure can only realistically be taken against that of monolingualism, ie. a state where the person who learns a language uses it at every single opportunity; whereas a bilingual person probably makes use of their two languages in different circumstances (at home for one, at school for the other, on holidays for one, at work for the other etc.).
Abdelilah-Bauer recalls an example given by François Grosjean in his book Bilinguisme et biculturalisme, essai de définition. I am paraphrasing:
It would probably never come to the athlete's mind to compare the performances of a hurdles runner to those of a 100m sprinter or those of a high jump athlete. In short, although the hurdles performance actually takes from both sprinter and high jumper, noone would say that a hurdle runner is a bad sprinter, or a bad high jumper. Bilingualism can thus be measured as a different set of skills which, if it fishes in different pools, constitutes a discipline of its own, independant of monolingualism.
I found the image very interesting, because it somehow broke one of the ideas I've always had at the back of my mind, while finding it really weird, ie. that languages coexist as separate pools from which I fish from. In short, thinking that my brain has some kind of switch that goes from one language to the other and that switching on one language, I switch off the other(s). At the same time, the situation I described above and the difficulty I have had to translate the illustration of the hurdle guy definitely proves that all the languages I speak are always there for the taking.
I'll share more of my thoughts about this book which I find extremely interesting as I get along.