I know some of my friends here are bi-lingual and others are even tri-lingual, so maybe you'll know what I'm talking about.
Do you find that you no longer speak either or any of your languages perfectly anymore? Do you find yourself puzzling over whether you're mixing your words and phrases up with one of the others, or, like me, you can only think of words in the second language when you're trying to come up with one in the first?
Another problem is just simply using the wrong words for things, which I personally seem to be doing a lot these days.
I mean take the word 'ship' for example. There's a distinct difference in English between a ship and a boat. For one thing, it's a matter of, simply, size. In English, a ship conjures up images of cruise liners, vast sea-going vessels and tankers. A ship is big. I don't know at what point a boat becomes a ship, but I do know my barge is not one. Why is it then, that I cannot remember to call my barge a barge, or even a boat and not a ship? I do know, of course. It's because in Dutch even a cabin cruiser can be referred to as a schip and I've just got into the habit of using it without even thinking.
I was talking to an English colleague the other day when I happened to mention putting my ship on the slipway. Her eyes widened just ever so slightly (as I said, she's English, and therefore, very polite). I noticed it though and thought back to what I'd just said. Oops. So laughing, I told her my problem.
But it's not just Dutch that gets in the way. Most of you know that I lived in South Africa for twenty years, and my first language became seriously tainted with a mixture of old military terms, two hundred year old Dutch and Zulu. Yes, I hear you think. What a mess! There we said things like "I'm going on leave" instead of "on holiday" or people were "retrenched" rather than made redundant from their jobs. Then we'd leave a restaurant and say. "Well that was lekker, but I'll need some muti for the indigestion, boykie, so let's pay and rij" (pronounced 'ray'). A fair translation would be "That was delicious. I'll need to take some medicine for the indigestion, guys, so let's pay the bill and go," Or it would be "Man, these plakkies hurt," (my flip flops hurt) or "Why doesn't he just voetsak!" (Why doesn't just b****r off). Even my family were totally mystified.
These days, though, I talk freely of being stuck in a file (a traffic jam), going on the helling (the slipway), turning up the kachel (heater) and so on. The problem is, the more I do it, the more difficult it is to remember the English words when I want them. The even greater problem is that I don't speak Dutch all that well, either, so in the end, I'm not sure that this second language thing is doing me much good. I shall finish up stumbling cheerfully through a motley selections of words and sentences just to make myself understood in the simplest of situations. They call it adaptation. Maybe it is, but I don't know what it does for my communication?