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Saturday November 8, 2014

Juggling languages can make all the difference to the beautiful game

Spanglish spells success for footballers

According to Ashley Williams, captain of Swansea football club, his team’s recent run of success has been due in part to improved communication on the pitch between him and his Argentinean team mate, Federico Fernandez. The two footballers have each been honing their language skills to the extent where they are now able to speak a convincing ‘Spanglish’ together which has greatly improved their game.

In fact, the two footballers are in a win win situation as various recent studies conducted in Spain,Canada and the Unites States have shown that learning to speak two languages can also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Although being bilingual from an early age helps to protect against cognitive decline in one’s older years, the good news is that it’s never too late to learn another language and to benefit from its evident health benefits.

Much as I admire those with the mental agility to be able to hop between two languages simultaneously – as the Majorcans somehow manage with Catalan and Castilian – I nearly came a cropper in France last week when trying to juggle three. Now that I live in Majorca, French, which I once spoke with reasonable fluency, seems to have scampered off to a dark and distant part of my brain and refuses to re-emerge whenever I have a Gallic encounter.

In Paris I found that attempting to separate English, French and Spanish during a conversation proved fairly disastrous. I quickly developed a bizarre ‘FranSpanglish’ whereby I effortlessly merged all languages into one feverish mass of gobbledygook. Even when concentrating very hard during a conversation with a taxi driver, I found myself peppering the conversation with ahora instead of maintenant, and tambien rather than aussi. The man was very sympathetic because as it transpired his family hailed from Andorra and his grandparents were Catalan. All the same he told me that he refused to speak anything other than French because trying to balance two or more languages made him grumpy, and no, he hadn’t heard about the studies into Alzheimer’s.

With a nonchalant shrug he told me that he wasn’t convinced that learning more than one language could stave off the disease and even suggested that the stress of trying to juggle two might even induce a form of madness. Although a shop assistant assured me that after a few days of immersion in French, my brain would compartmentalise the various languages, a student at the Sorbonne insisted that the easiest solution was just to merge them all. Similarly to the two Swansea footballers she and an English friend resorted to speaking to one another in their own mother tongue with occasional forays into Franglish which apparently proved most effective.

Whatever the weather – el tiempo or le temps – the important thing is surely to communicate as best we can using whatever tools our poor addled brains can throw at us. If Spanglish, Franglish or even Spanfranglish prove the best solution at least we all end up speaking the same language.

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