Aspects of a quadrilingual life

Last week I had a nice chat with some other foreigners in Barcelona. My friend commented that I should definitely have kids some day, just to see them growing up with four languages and see how it goes. In this case the kid would speak German and Portuguese at home, and Spanish and Catalan in public life (especially at school). Sounds like chaos.

Later that day I realized that I am already leading a quite multilingual life. And I am taking advantage of my languages pretty often, especially in combination with my obvious Northern European appearance. So as a background: with the husband I speak Portuguese. With family (so mostly over skype) and some friends here I speak German. Work environment is pretty much divided between Spanish and English, and hobbies are mostly in Spanish and/or Catalan. (Disclaimer: I understand Catalan very well, but still have difficulties speaking it for a lack of practice. In our neighborhood people don’t really care. They talk in Catalan, I talk in Spanish and we get along very well.) With time I have learned to switch back and forth quickly between even the very similar Latin languages. I am really glad about this, because I distinctively remember how I was mute for the first 3 weeks in Barcelona. My language centre just refused to process any Latin language at all, while torturing my husband with German conversation for the most part of the time.

Fortunately by now I have pretty much automized the language use. I answer people in the language they talk to me (or try to do so in the case of Catalan). If I am the first to speak, I address in Spanish first. With other expats I do Spanish first and then we discuss which is the language we are both most comfortable with. Interestingly some people feel more English to me, while others feel best in Spanish.

Meanwhile I do speak German in Spain as well. Especially when people want to stop me for questionnaires on the street (which happens almost never, because I look way to German to be considered a resident) or when I get yet another marketing call trying to sell me a new mobile phone. I made the experience that politely asking them to take you out of the call directory doesn’t work. Telling them the story of Little Red Riding Hood in German however works wonders.

One thought on “Aspects of a quadrilingual life

  1. Haha talking to telemarketers in German is brilliant. When people stop me in the street trying to sell my things I say “I’m not Canadian” and keep moving. Mostly, by the time they’ve worked out whether or not that’s a problem, I’m gone!

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