Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Topic: Switching languages

This is something people have asked me in real life recently, and it was in the comments here, too:
Have you been able to successfully switch which language you speak with someone? How? Do you have any tips on how to do that? Especially, how would you change the main language in your home?

Personally, I've found that what I start with, is what sticks, and that's not always good. We speak Russian with our children, but we've done that since they were born. We have been able to bring in English in certain contexts, but it's harder than I would have guessed. (They're bilingual, but they don't like to speak English with us.)

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at fylliska@gmail.com. Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)


  1. I don't have any suggestions for at home, but I have done this with many friends as I've become comfortable with Russian. When we first moved to Russia, I needed to be able to speak in English with friends who understand in order to express deeper things. Now that I can express myself in Russian, English is not necessary. With friends that speak both languages, I just basically started speaking to them in Russian and stopped speaking in English. Usually people speak back to me whatever language I speak to them. If someone starts speaking to me in English, sometimes I'll answer back in Russian, if that seems like the best language choice, and if I continue in Russian, often they also switch back to Russian. If we really can't decide what language, sometimes I just say, "Since we're in Russia, why don't we speak Russian!" For some reason that often works. =) At times I've explained to people that it is helpful for me to speak as much Russian as possible so that I can become more fluent. I've also joked that we can speak Russian together in Russia and then when my friend comes to America, then we can speak English together. That last one I've only said as a joke but it has helped solidify with friends that I am fine speaking in Russian, even if still make grammar mistakes. There are some people who are exceptionally fluent in English and who are a part of my English-speaking community but who are Russian where it still is more natural to speak English. In those contexts I don't try to speak Russian.

  2. At home we have the goal of speaking English, but really end up speaking Spanglish both days. Our son actually speaks stronger Spanish the English, so often he talks to us in Spanish but we are trying to help him to have a solid English base too. Our kids speak Spanglish to each other...consistently switching in the midst of conversation and play. With my friends, if they speak Spanish we usually speak Spanish with the exception of a few close friends who knew me before I really knew Spanish. I'm always trying to get better in Spanish so I try to speak it as much as I can! I have a few friends learning English so they talk to me in English, and I answer them in Spanish. It's pretty funny but it helps us both to work on our language skills!