Monday, May 16, 2011

Bilingual Family Fun

I never imagined that I would one day speak another language fluently (I certainly studied a bunch of languages, but never to true fluency), but here I am living in a Swedish/English speaking family.

Having a different 'mother tongue' than your family has a lot of frustrating moments, but a lot of funny ones as well. In our household we are lucky, we both speak and understand the other's native language at a very high funtional level – which means that we can each speak whatever language we feel like. This has made us very LAZY with language – something we are trying to mend due to the prescence of a new language learner in our midst – but it is not easy.

My Swede speaks amazing English, and sometimes when he makes a mistake it catches me by surprise, because I don't expect it. I, on the other hand, still make a bunch of Swedish mistakes, and they can also bring the laughs.

Take, for example, the discussion we ended up having last night. My Swede was trying to put LO to bed and he had a loaf of bread baking in the oven. (Yes, my Swede is awesome).

Trying not to disrupt our almost sleeping child, The Swede says “Please take the bread out of the oven at sharp.”

I am confused. “Huh?”


“I don't understand,” I stagewhisper upstairs.

“At eight o'clock, take it out at eight!” He whispers loudly and I hear LO stirring.

I cannot remember the last time I gave the phrase 8 o'clock sharp that much thought, but all of a sudden I was thinking about when we use sharp, and why and how with time. And that is what rocks about having a bilingual relationship. You suddenly get a whole new perspective on the words you use.

If you say sharp, you need to give a specific time that it needs to be completed by, otherwise sharp has no meaning. But I did have a nagging sense of self-doubt and double checked on the internets. Because after living abroad for ten years, sometimes I wonder what constructions in English are real, and what just exists in my head.

Has bilinguilism affected your family in any fun and amusing ways?


  1. Not quite the same but quite entertaining none the less:

    I lived in a dormitory, a corridor with eight people with one room each and a common kitchen. One of the other people who lived there was a german girl who was learning swedish. She was from some strange part of germany where it sounds like they are gargling when they say "R". Maybe that works fine in german, but in swedish it sounds very odd.
    One day she almost managed to say swedish words containing R's and pronounce them so that they sounded like swedish... I said "Have you been practising your R's?"

    (In english because she didn't know many swedish words yet)

    XS <-- facepalm

  2. That's funny.

    Most of ours come from our little girl, who is really working on her Swedish right now. Mostly she just tries to change English words into Swedish ones via grammar.

  3. My Swede makes the cutest little English mistakes that I never want to correct him...some of my favorites are:

    "Looks like they're putting out all the Eastern candy."

    "See, that was a piece of a cake!"

    He forgot the word "sponge" and said he was going to wash the car with "mushrooms" (svamp of course)

    He calls bumblebees "humming bees" (humla)

    And once, when we were trying to iron out a semi-confusing conversation, he said, "If everything I just said was translated into Swedish it would make sense."

  4. My husbands English is such that most people do not know his is American until the are informed otherwise but there are little things that he says that crack me up. I also think it is really cute so I do not want to correct him.

    One he always does is instead of saying waking up he says going up as in "what time are we going up tomorrow". He even has me in the habit of saying it. Also adding an s to cereal, so it is "what kind of cereals should we buy" even when buying only one.

  5. One cereal makes a tiny breakfast. :)

  6. @antropologa - oh, I can't wait until LO starts making funny bilingual mistakes.

    @Hemborgwife - those are cute - Swede has sometimes used the world 'Baseballtree' instead of baseball bat because of the Swenglish mix - that one still makes us giggle.

    @mazui - sure, it counts - living in cramped quarters as a student is almost like family :)

  7. I love your blog! I found it a couple of weeks ago and I think it's really fun and interesting to read about my country from your perspective. You write about allot of everyday things that I take for granted. I want to move to usa someday and try something new but you really make me appreciate sweden and its quirks, much more than I have before :)

    I'm adding a link to your blog from my own if that's okey?

  8. I recognize the part about becoming lazy. When we lived in the US we soon started mixing up English with Swedish. We had a conversation in Swedish with each other but some word and phrases just came easier or faster in English so we ended up mixing both languages. We still mix a little but not as much because here you got the correct Swedish all around you all the time so it is easier.

  9. @Emma - thanks! Please feel free to add me - glad you get something positive from this blog.

    @Desiree - Yes, I think it is one of the downfalls of having a job where I speak English all the time, my Swedish isn't as fine-tuned as when I had to speak Swedish at work - but it is funny how you just end up choosing the first word that comes into your head, irregardless of the language

  10. Nice blog!

    I used to only speak english with my husband before I choice to stay in Sweden (he was my boyfriend back then) but his english was better than mine, I guess the main problem was when I put in South African slangs without thinking about it.

    I speak Swedish with my husband now, I think my Swedish is pretty good for the time that I have spent here..

    Affected me?

    Not so much. Hubby finds it very funny sometimes when I sing or speak to my babies because my language have clicks in it.

  11. Fun to read this!
    In our home, we speak Norwegian, Greek and English - and like you say, we get very lazy about it! Staring a sentence in one language and adding words in whatever language pops into mind first! It´s like a secret family language.
    My children made some cute mix ups when they were younger - like a "skarpero" knife, which is Norwegian with Greek ending. Once my son showed me a picture of an octopus and asked me what it was. I answered in Norwegian, and said"blekksprut". "No, mama," he corrected me - in Norwegian: "Det er åtte føtter". "Eight feet" - the exact translation of octopus, oktapodi, from Greek...

  12. @Nikosazana - thanks, I know I make a lot of silly mistakes in Swedish as well - I really think 'att procrastinera' should be a word - but I guess it keeps things interesting. That's great you speak Swedish at home, I think it helps language learning go 100% faster. Have your little ones started speaking yet? I'm kind of surprised that despite me being the one who has been home the most, speaking English with LO, the first words we have heard are all Swedish.

    @Tove - too funny, attefotter - love it. Sounds like when I try to translate an idiom and it turns out to make no sense whatsoever. But lucky kids to have 3 languages from the get go.

  13. Prokrastinera:

  14. @Mazui - that is really great, thanks. I use this word ALL the time, since I am terribly guilty of the occasional procrastination, and my Swedish friends tend to look at me like from another planet - and they are a pretty academic bunch. I will take this with me into battle next time!