Multilingual People Reveal The Biggest Struggles Of Speaking More Than One Language


It can be hard enough to speak one language, let alone two or more. When you get into the territory of being truly familiar with more than one language, things can go a little...wonky in your brain's word storage.

It gets especially interesting if you decide to pick up a third language. In my Spanish final last year I ended up nearly in tears (test anxiety makes life interesting) because I couldn't remember how to say "work/job" in Spanish (trabajo/empleo). My professor took pity on me and offered to tell me the word so I could finish my sentence and move on.

Unfortunately for both of us, I couldn't remember the word in English either. My brain had apparently decided that お仕事 (oshigoto) was the default word for the concept of employment, despite the fact that I rarely have a chance to speak Japanese aloud anymore (there aren't exactly a whole lot of Japanese speakers in the extremely rural area of Maine where I live).

Thankfully for me, we both had a good laugh at the ridiculousness that is being multilingual and then she let me start over from the beginning. I think I got an A, so the redo was definitely worth it.

Reddit user stephs926 wanted to know more about the downsides of learning another language, so they asked reddit:

"People who speak more than 1 language, what are some struggles people don't know about?"

It Really Is Simple, Sort Of

A phrase or word being really simple and understandable but not being able to describe it in the other language.


I Do This In My Native Language

I want a word. It's right there. But no, that's the other word. I want the one for this language. Too fecking bad. You're not getting it today. At least not until the conversation has progressed and you'd look dumb to bring it up again.


Sometimes I'll forget a word in the language I'm speaking, and because of that I'll forget the word in the other language.


Everyone Wants To Be Ham

Lil' mixing up languages story from a half German-half Japanese:

When I was like 4 years old and was fooling around while my parents were trying to be serious at some event, my Japanese mother got really angry at me.

She shouted at me "shinken ni narinasai!", which translates to "become serious!". But "Schinken" in German means not "serious" but "ham", so 4 year old me was really confused. "Why should I be a ham, mom..?"


It's Just Not The Same

Translating. To me it is a completely different thing understanding & talking (I am writing this as a non-native right now) but when people ask me to translate something, it is significantly harder.

For example I know the meaning of a word in a foreign language but I just can't come up with the best translation (or even a translation at all) for it in my own language. Also sentence structure. So it takes me a few seconds to translate a sentence to somebody, translating it with a horribly wrong sentence structure and then the other person would be like: "You don't seem to know that language really well."


Especially Puns! 😞


They almost never translate.

It is sad.


Mental Burnout

Endurance and cognitive stress are a thing. My wife has been in the US for almost 15 years and speaks English well enough to work as a medical professional. However, at the end of a long day, she begins to have difficulty understanding complex conversation. It took me months to figure out what was happening and we had many frustrating evening conversations in that time. Now, if it is important, we just wait to the next day to talk about it. Also, a very similar thing occurs if I'm with her and her non-English speaking family. Actively translating all conversation between myself and her family downgrades her English abilities by a good 5-10 years. I have to stop saying jokes to her and keep my conversation much simpler with her than if she is talking in just one language.


Everything Is Idioms

Idioms, you don't realize how often you use them.


you don't say...

I don't say what?

You know...



The worst thing is when you say an idiom and then you realize it actually only works in another language and makes no sense in the one you are speaking right now.


My dad does that a lot (Swedish idioms in English). My sisters ex-boyfriend once told her "Your dad is really nice but he says really strange things sometimes".


Does Not Compute

When somebody asks you to translate a specific word and there's no translation and then they act like your lying about speaking the language.


"Hey how do you say my name in Chinese?" Ughhhh no.


False Cognates Suck

False cognates. When I'm speak fast and on autopilot, sometimes I'll hit one and switch into my other language without realizing it. I sound like an idiot when I'm tripping up trying to straighten out what I said in one language.


I do that a lot. When I'm gaming with friends or otherwise concentrating, suddenly I switch to German.


I Feel This One 😭

I find myself forgetting words and things from the less-spoken language, which is really sad and makes me feel like I'm losing a part of who I am.


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