(Note: Newer readers may be interested in reading an essay I wrote a year ago on language assimiliation, The Occidental Native.)
I was born in Taiwan and lived there until I was two years old (speaking/learning Mandarin Chinese) until my family moved to Osaka, Japan where we lived until I was about six. About the time I was ready to start grade school, our family's application for immigration to the United States was approved - and we picked up roots once again to move to America.
And for the second time in my life, my default OS/primary language had to be reset, and I had to learn English at an accelerated pace in ESL classes. My poor, overloaded seven-year-old brain couldn't handle three language partitions - and since I still spoke Chinese at home with my parents, Japanese was the unlucky tenant that had to be evicted.
Conversationally, I can speak accentless Chinese and English ... but even though Japanese was my dominant/primary language for several formative years, I cannot understand anything other than a handful of stock phrases.
And in the process, an entire universe of undubbed/unsubbed anime was closed to me ...
What was the first language you learned?
Do you consider the first language you learned to be your "native" tongue?
How many languages can you speak fluently?
Do you think/dream in multiple languages?
Excerpt from The Occidental Native:
Last November, I had a fascinating lunch conversation with a family friend who was leaving home to join the U.S. Army to become a language analyst. As some of you know, the U.S. military maintains a language center in Monterey, CA, where recruits are trained to become linguists and communications experts to analyze foreign message transmissions in American listening posts around the world.
I assumed that, being already bilingual, his language assignment/specialty would be obvious.
Here’s the interesting part: the Army doesn’t much care if you are already fluently multilingual. Whether you’re an Appalachian-born whiteboy from West Virginia, or an internationally-schooled student with an accentless command of multiple languages, every recruit is given a very strange screening test.
As my friend told me, the screening test is largely comprised of symbols-based multiple-choice questions … with most of the questions revolving around geometric shapes and lines. Typical question would have a pattern of lines and polygons on the left, and four others to its right with the question: ‘the pattern on the left most resembles: pattern A, pattern B, pattern C, or pattern D.’
These bizarre questions would go on for PAGES and PAGES, and take hours to complete.
At the end of the test, the Army will score your responses and say, “Lieutenant Smith, your language placement test indicates that you think in Russian. You will report to Russian Linguistics Orientation at oh-eight-hundred hour on Monday.”
(read more here)