When learning foreign in earnest for the first time, I noticed that whilst making progress in the language itself, my brain also found ways of hemming in my thoughts. It was as if my mind’s vocabulary was labelled and categorised, such that I often instinctively knew before opening my mouth whether I knew how to say what I wanted to ‘in foreign’. Knowing the word for tree bark was as important as knowing that I know the word for tree bark. Interestingly, this made trying to use languages from school more difficult: when travelling in France, a language I’ve barely used in the past decade or so, I often found myself trying to say things my mind believed me capable of saying. It would have me starting sentences, confident in the knowledge that I knew the word or phrase ‘in foreign’, only which foreign wasn’t mentioned. It seems actually knowing what to say plays second fiddle to knowing what one is able to say.
Now with the intention of learning a second foreign properly, I find my mind building a new ring fence around what can and can’t be said in the new foreign. I wonder what effect this might have on the old foreign–will my brain try to corral it into the smaller space, or might the fencing be removed altogether and treated like my native tongue? Will I find myself stumbling over my own thoughts as in French, or will I need to battle over my brains’ self-imposed hurdles to express myself?