Being a native speaker of two languages is great, but not without its practical difficulties and idiosyncrasies. Whether you have a bilingual friend you want to better understand or whether you are a bilingual yourself and want to relate, this list includes a few of those quirks. Feel free to bring up more.
1. People assume you know everything
It’s a fair assumption that being a native speaker of two languages means that you should be able to translate from one to the other with no difficulty whatsoever, but- for me at least- that’s far from the truth. Being asked to come up with a translation for a term sends me directly to Google Translate. My brain just doesn’t work like that. The two languages coexist in my head separately, in their own individual tanks. Translating doesn’t come into it like it does with foreign languages, where you depend on your native tongue to translate into the foreign language. That means I’ve never thought of what a word might translate into up until the moment I’ll be called to give the term.
Also, trying to copy from the bilingual kid in a test on their other native language might not be as good of an idea as it initially appears to be. They’ll know some things, but certainly not everything. Probably about as much as you know about your native tongue. Do you always get everything right? Do you know the definition of every word you hear? Can you spell them correctly? Can you bring up synonyms easily?
2. You speak a mixture of the two languages
Not being able to come up with a word in the language you’re speaking often means you will choose to use the corresponding one in the other language. Sometimes you might modify verbs according to the grammar of the other language and create a scary and unintelligible hybrid of a word.
“I’m almost teleiosei-d.”
3. You have a hard time telling which language an idiom comes from
… and you use it incorrectly in the opposite language.
4. You tend to be better at one of them
It can be particularly frustrating to have improved your skills- be it with verbal or written speech- in one language to then find that your abilities are much more limited in the other. Especially if you’re a writer- writing in one language comes naturally, whereas with the other it’s an uphill battle. It feels awkward and restricting.
5. It’s hard to learn foreign languages
I don’t know if this one applies to most bilinguals, but with me, since I already knew the language everyone was being taught, I didn’t have to get familiar with the process of learning a foreign language when I was young. It might have something to do with why I struggle now. If that’s not the case with you but you still have trouble with foreign languages, it might be that your expectations were high when you were learning your first one. For example, you might have thought that you would learn to speak it just as well as your native languages in a short period of time, but that didn’t happen and you found that learning it was actually a very strenuous process.