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Can a monolingual adult become bilingual?

(68 Posts)
msrisotto Thu 28-Jan-10 09:35:42

Hello all,

I couldn't find a more appropriate forum and there seem to be some very experienced people here who's input i'd appreciate!

I am desperate to be bilingual or at least fluent in Spanish. I lived in Spain between the ages of 2 and 7 so how i managed to avoid having a good grasp of it is beyond me - english speaking school, parents, surrounded by english speaking expats. Go figure.
We went back to spain 1-2x a year for years after moving back to the UK too.
Anyway, basically i feel i need to right a wrong and i feel distanced from an important part of my life oddly.
Anyway, my partner was bilingual english/spanish as he lived in south america for a few years though currently living in england so is more fluent at the moment and we're building up my conversation skills together, i'm going to spanish classes once a week. I want to do an immersion course in spain which i could afford for about a month. How good do you think i could get? Do you think i'd have to live in a spanish speaking country to really get it? I imagine i'll move to Spain at some distant point in the future but i want to learn sooner rather than later. I'm 24, is it too late?

Thanks in advance for any input!

Mybox Thu 28-Jan-10 09:41:00

Would think it easier to be bilingual through living in the country. You could do a course but to get the actual local language difference to the textbook you'd have to live there or visit regulary.

Bucharest Thu 28-Jan-10 09:47:11

I'd say extremely fluent yes, bilingual no.

Definitely easier to become very fluent through full immersion (ie going there and just diving in) than any amount of study will give you.

I studied French, German and Spanish at university, never studied any Italian officially, but now, after 15 yrs here, I am very fluent, but I would never call myself bilingual.

I remember a half Spanish, half British girl in my uni class, she had been brought up more or less bilingually, but her English always sounded stilted, no accent or anything, it just sounded a bit Katie Boyle (for those old enough to remember!) She had always lived in Spain, although her father had always spoken to her in English, her English was perfectly correct, it just sounded "off" in some way. She didn't consider herself bilingual, and in all honesty, she wasn't. There was something less natural about her English.

A month of full immersion will definitely give you something, and you could also watch Spanish tv etc while in the UK and just basically try to start thinking in Spanish. Most probably an awful lot of what you've forgotten will come back as well.

Enjoy! <love Spain>

msrisotto Thu 28-Jan-10 09:55:27

Thanks for your responses!
I'd love to watch Spanish t.v. (although if i remember the quality correctly....biscuit)
how can I do that?
Whenever I go, I clam up 'cos I know my Spanish is far from perfect and I get embarrassed so I don't learn anything. I have been making more of an effort but the quizzical brows put me off even more blush

MIFLAW Thu 28-Jan-10 12:49:19

Depends on your definition of bilingual. I would say yes, but you're not going to do it in a month.

Think more in terms of years.

Bilingual means that, at the very least, then practically everything you can say in one language you can at least express in the other.

However, you CAN make huge progress in a month.

Think marathon rather than sprint, progress not perfection, and enjoy the journey (literal and figurative.) smile

MIFLAW Thu 28-Jan-10 12:50:06

Also wouldn't say TOO late, but the older the harder, so start now!

belgo Thu 28-Jan-10 12:55:22

Agree with bucharest - it is possible to become very fluent but it takes a lot of work and commitment even when you are living in the country.

You need to live in the country and have intensive languages lessons as well. A month will give you a good start but will not make you fluent. Fluency will take one or to years at least of living in the new country.

Go for it!

DrivenToDistraction Thu 28-Jan-10 12:59:02

Yes, I really believe it is possible to become bilingual as an adult. Although, I must admit, I don't actually know what the 'official' definition of bilingualism is.

When I moved to the Netherlands 6 years ago I could only speak English. I now speak totally fluent Dutch, I think in Dutch a lot of the time (certainly when speaking it and much of the time when I'm not speaking at all). I often dream in Dutch too.

There is hope, go for it!

frakkinaround Thu 28-Jan-10 13:05:26

I think so. I'll report back (am roughly your age and aiming for bilingual French/English)! I've lived in France for nearly 18months now and I've gone from knowing practically nothing to knowing a lot but I'm disadvataged (?) by the fact DH is bilingual and we speak English together and I work in English...

A month will do a massive amount but I experienced about 6 months where I really plateaued - got to a relatively good level quite quickly and then stopped improving - and I've only just started picking things up again.

MrFibble Thu 28-Jan-10 14:49:42

I did it. I started learning German at age 24 (when I met DH). It probably took me a year with 6 months immersion.

I have been advised that the only way I will perfect my French is to take a French lover... Not sure I'm willing to go that far though!

cory Thu 28-Jan-10 16:54:51

I wouldn't say too late: I have known people who have done it. But you have to be very committed.

msrisotto Thu 28-Jan-10 22:02:44

Thanks for the responses!
The 1 month course would be to get me going a bit more confidently than I am able to with the lessons, DIY cd's and DP. I'd do more if i could but it isn't feasible in the near future, if ever really.

By bilingual, I guess I mean having it come really naturally, thinking and maybe even dreaming in the 2nd language.

I'm really motivated and given the opportunity to move to Spain for a couple/few years, i'd jump at it, got to sort out a career to back me up first though it seems! Blimmin' real world responsibilities....

I'm so in awe of the parents who teach their kids to be bilingual!

Bucharest Fri 29-Jan-10 08:09:55

You see, I think in Italian too, and talk to myself in Italian <eccentric old woman emoticon> but I still wouldn't say I was bilingual. Because Italian, is, and always will be a second lg to me. (like I imagine I will always, no matter my fluency, need to have the telly turned up a bit louder for an Italian programme and will always choose to read a book in English) For me, a definition of bilingual is when it isn't a second language, but just another first one. Which I know for me won't happen, not least because I don't have the emotive attachment to it as my mother tongue.

As I said, I imagine, but obviously don't know for sure.

As said before though, it's certainly possible to become extremely fluent.

butadream Fri 29-Jan-10 08:13:33

Don't know about bilingual but if your partner likes South America how about doing an immersion course in Guatemala, they speak very good Spanish there so it's really popular for language courses and your living expenses might be cheaper for the month even if the flights are more expensives.

butadream Fri 29-Jan-10 08:14:39

<disclaimer - I am not actually a meercat, just not fluent in my natives language apparently!>

msrisotto Fri 29-Jan-10 09:01:35

Well I wouldn't mind not being bilingual if i was so fluent i thought in spanish! That's fine by me. South America is really far away which is my reservation about doing a course there. But if it was only for a month then it doesn' really matter how far away it was i suppose. But i might like to have a mainland accent as it is my 'home' accent. I'll have a google around.

butadream - you're endearing as a meercat, you can't change it now, simples!

cory Fri 29-Jan-10 09:19:47

I started learning English from Ladybird books as a 6yo, but did not meet a native speaker until around age 10, only really spent time in the country as a teen (a few months at a time, 3 years running), then a year in my early twenties; finally emigrated when I was 29. I still have a very strong emotional attachment to English, would not choose to read a book in Swedish rather than in English (I'd choose the original above a translation), and found myself able to coo to my babies in either language. People are just different and every person's life experience, and linguistic experience, is different.

frakkinaround Fri 29-Jan-10 09:23:49

I would also choose a book in the original language - already do in fact - and have no childhood attachment to France but am able to interact with children fine in French now. I guess my emotional attachment to French is getting stronger because of DH but I started learning it as a means to an end and now have French friends which helps!

I did German at school (and Latin and Greek but not particularly useful) and hate it. Didn't get on with my teachers, didn't get on with my exchange partners, didn't like the country...even if I became totally fluent in German through necessity I'd never be able to feel comfortable enough in German to be bilingual.

macaco Sun 31-Jan-10 15:19:23

I think realistically for most people the chances of becoming bilingual as an adult are nil. To me, bilingual means that you have the same level of fluency, range of vocabulary, pronunciation, correct use of register etc in both languages and I really think to achieve that as an adult is highly improbable. That's not to say you couldn't become very proficient in another language as an adult, I have.
I came to spain ten years ago have taught myself some basic vocab from a book and now I would say I am extremely fluent and have very good pronunciation to the extent that I work as a translator. Mostly I did it through living here and being with and then married to a Spaniard who didn't speak English.
I think in spanish often and dream in it occaisonally bt I would never ever consider myself to be bilingual. And I don't think it really matters what label you put on it.
A months' course will help, but really you need to live in a Spansih speaking country to really see a quantum leap in your level.

displayuntilbestbefore Sun 31-Jan-10 15:25:04

Being bilingual and being extremely fluent in 2 languages is the same thing.
If you can spend time in the country where the language is most used then you will be immersed in it constantly and will find yourself automatically becoming more fluent simply by being exposed to the language all the time in what you say, read, hear etc.

macaco Sun 31-Jan-10 15:30:59

sorry...having taught.
And no, I'm sorry but there is a difference between being extremely fluent and being bilingual, for me anyway. I think most people understand bilingualism to mean having the same level in both and I think that is almost impossible as an adult. You can be extremely fluent but your mother tongue will be far stronger. Most people I think (rightly or wrongly) mean having 2 native languages when they say bilingual, which I think by definition is impossible as an adult.
That's all academic though really, you can acheive an extremely high level as an adult but you would also be picked out as not being a native speaker, even if only a tiny thing gave it away.
I'm rambling now so I'll shut up.

displayuntilbestbefore Sun 31-Jan-10 15:36:53

That's someone's perception of what being bilingual means but you don't have to be equally fluent in both languages to be bilingual,just have equal or almost equal fluency.

MadOldCrone Sun 31-Jan-10 15:45:19

In answer to the OP, I have no idea, but why don't you join a Spanish parenting forum?


BlauerEngel Sun 31-Jan-10 15:53:27

Agree with macaco and Bucharest. It is not possible for an adult to become completely bilingual. There is a huge difference between speaking a second language completely fluently and being bilingual in it. This is because there is a part of the brain responsible for first language development in the first ten years or so. It shuts down slowly and everything learned after that stays at second language level.

I moved to Germany at 21 and have lived here for nearly 19 years. I taught myself German from scratch and am now a translator, so am probably about as fluent as it gets. Often when I don't understand something, I find native speakers don't understand it either. But I am not, and never will be bilingual. My children, however, raised with both since birth and attending a bilingual school, are revoltingly, completely bilingual. True bilinguals cannot even conceive of what life might be like with only one language - the two (or more) languages are so deeply engrained in their identities.

So there is every chance that you will become completely fluent through immersion, but no more than that. Isn't that enough?

BlauerEngel Sun 31-Jan-10 15:56:48

Just wanted to add how much of a pity it was that your parents didn't integrate you with the local community more when you lived in Spain as a child, but you clearly regret that yourself already.

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