Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Can Your L2 Affect Your L1 Negatively?

A topic that I have become very interested in lately is whether one's mother tongue (L1) can be affected and/or altered because of one's L2. 

What do you think?!  Is it possible?  For what it's worth, I will share my personal experience.  

Personally, I grew up in the United States and naturally acquired English as my mother tongue.  In school, I did not start learning a foreign language (Spanish) until I was about eleven or twelve years old.  I kept studying Spanish throughout high school and later at university.  I fell in love with the language and the Latin American culture.  My love for the Spanish language grew into a passion, and an ever-growing desire to travel to Latin American countries began to take control over me.

At university I applied for a study abroad program and chose Argentina as my destination.  Little did I know that that decision would be life-changing!  During six months in Argentina I greatly improved my Spanish, met a lot of new friends, and, most importantly, met the woman of my dream (my wife)!

My experience showed me that I was doing the right thing, the thing that I loved most: use Spanish and live the culture first hand.

I have been living in Argentina now for over six years.  My Spanish is not perfect, but most people find it hard to believe that I am not from Argentina, or that I don't have any family from here.  I have worked hard on honing my Spanish skills, but the most important factor in my learning process has been the environment in which I live.  The fact that I have to speak and listen to Spanish on a daily basis has helped me an uncalculable amount.

However, I feel that so much L2 in my life has affected negatively my L1.  I find that it is difficult for me to recall certain words in English.  For example, I have to spend more time than I should to find the word I am looking for.  I also have to confess that I use false cognates sometimes.  I have been known to switch up word order, too (i.e. speaking or writing English in a Spanish structure).  When talking on the phone with my parents, who live in the United States, I sometimes use filler words like "bueno" or "o sea".  I can only imagine what my parents must be thinking on the other line!

I have personal proof that one's L1 can be affected negatively by one's L2.  I am living proof!  At first, I was quite ashamed of this because I felt like I was the problem.  However, I have come to realize that this is a fairly natural process, especially when one's L2 proficiency is high (compounded by the fact that one is living in the L2 culture).  There is not much research done on this topic, but the research that does exist is very convincing.  

Check out Franรงois Grosjean's work to learn more about what I am referring to.  He is an expert on bilingualism. 

So, what do you think?  Do you agree with me?  Disagree?  Leave a comment!  I would love to hear your opinion and experience.  

Oh, just one more thing....  Do you think I (or other people with similar stories) will be able to "recover" my L1?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting topic and reflection!! I think L1 and L2 affect one another both positively and negatively... We transfer both appropriately and inappropriatly...
    Now, I leave a question for you: Do you think that having acquired a Second Langage has affected the way you think? In what language do you think, for instance?