Speaking a language as a non-native

I speak Swedish pretty well but I work in English all day, and I speak English at home with my Swedish husband. When we are with other Swedes we speak Swedish to each other and to them, but we always speak English to each other in private because we learned to know each other in English and it was hard to switch languages afterwards.

My native language is English and my second language is Afrikaans, which I speak fluently and learned as a child. Swedish is thus my third language, so during periods where I speak Swedish less often, I get very rusty. I improve quickly once I have been speaking it for a few hours but when I am tired, or stressed, my Swedish gets more choppy and less nuanced. As everyone who speaks a language as a non-native, you know that some days you can be much better than others. I speak perfectly in my head, but when it comes out of my mouth it feels like it has to travel over a bunch of marbles.

Does anyone else feel that?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. I feel the same. My first language was English which I spoke everyday until the age of 6 when we moved to France. French became my everyday language outside the house and English at home with my parents. Then my grandma came to live with us and she only spoke Italian and a bit of French so I started speaking Italian at home. At the same time I was learning Spanish at school so by the time I took the Baccalauréat I was fluent in English, French, Italian and Spanish. I then went to Uni to learn languages in order to become either a language teacher or translator and on top of the four languages I already spoke I started Arabic.
    I am now a Translator/Interpret (English, French, Spanish and Arabic) for the EU and I also teach British literature at Uni.
    Having an Italian partner makes me still practice Italian as it is the language we mostly speak at home but I still speak English only with my mother.
    I don’t know which language is really my mother tongue but I tend to think it’s French as it is the one I use when I dream and the one I prefer.

  2. Thank you so much for your reply. It’s so easy to learn a second language as a child, but as an adult, new languages have to always filter through your other ones. When you just speak one, it gets better so fast, but switching backwards and forwards means I lose words even in my mother tongue. Like you though, I love languages. I could never consider living in a country and not trying to learn the language.

  3. I am in the same situation as you. I was raised with 2 languages (French and Spanish) and started my life in Spain but did my studies in France. Later on, I went to England for a semester abroad as part of my studies (translation, what else?) and there I met my future husband (German). I could speak a bit of German but not a lot (level A2 if at all!…). So we both spoke English. When we decided to start living together, right after our studies, we weren’t sure where to go because his French was not very good and neither was my German. We considered living on the border between France and Germany but I couldn’t find a job, so we decided to move to England and we started our lives there together. About 7 years ago, we moved to Germany, where we are now and my German has dramatically improved, but like you, when I’m tired or stressed, all good grammar goes out of the window… Even in Germany, we would speak English with each other but when I became pregnant, my husband said we should speak French and German with each other so that our daughter could learn these two languages. It was heartbreaking for me to have to switch from English to French but we made it. So when it’s the three of us, I speak French, my husband speaks German and my daughter usually answers in German (she only speaks French to the cat, not to me…). I have to say that even though it’s confusing for outsiders, it is a lot of fun for me. I am steeped in languages and I love it!

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