Fuck yeah brain plasticity!

One of the reasons I’m not writing on this blog as much as before is my “brain issue” with italian language. It might sounds incredible but I’ve become so embedded in british culture and society that my italian brain slowed down considerably. It takes seconds to minutes to find the right words to write in a post like this one. I could have written this one in italian but it could have taken double the time probably. The underlying issue here is that we got “drawers” in our brain, or should I say areas of the brain involved in language. One big drawer contains our native language, the mother tongue, all the other languages are inside another one which usually is quite small compared to the mother tongue one. Now, it appears that in my case things have changed considerably in the latest years. From 9 to 18 I talk, write, think in english, then I got few minutes on internet and on Skype when I talk in italian, then again I switch to english: TV, music, books, friends etc. I’ve done this for the past, almost, 10 years. I’m not saying I can master english as a mother tongue now (far from it! and you may spot dozens of mistakes but who cares) but I’m surely able to make “that drawer” the main one.

This is just an experiment but if I’m happy with it and I find it easier I might write more in english on this blog. Sorry for the readers unable to understand it but Google Translate can give you a rough idea of what I’m talking about (kind of…). At the end of the day if I don’t find it easy to write I don’t write, hence this blog can die soon.

So, i was saying it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to write and even to talk in italian. At work I got Wordreference bookmarked in the english to italian version and not the opposite! False friends became true friends and all the “preposizioni” like to, at, in, on are now working in english, not in italian. It means sometimes I make the same mistakes as the anglosaxons do when they talk in italian. And prove of this is the most recent posts of this blog which have an awful italian. It is embarassing to be on the phone with an italian speaker and struggling to find the right word. Luckily I talk with the scientific community so most of the people I talk to understand me even when I say something in english. A couple of months ago I was in Rome and I met a scientist half-brit, half-italian. She was struggling to say something, then I realised I was struggling too, so I asked her if we could switch to english. And it felt so good, the brain’s cogs where so smooth, words were coming out so easily, no need to translate from english to italian.

I also felt ashamed about this but then when i was on the plane I said to myself: why should I? It means my brain has changed, neuronal plasticity is still working even though I’m 34 this year. I shluld be proud of it. some people’s brains are still in the teenager stage. For god’s sake, I’m a neuroscientist, I should appreciate these sorts of things. And I do of course but I’m still confused. I always wanted to be a good writer (in italian) and this blog was my gym, but what if I need to relearn it again? English is so easy, in a way I think that a brain can work much better in english. It’s like a Pc with Linux based system and Windows. Ah, I like this metaphor! English is so direct, so to the point. Also, kind of more scientific or maybe because I got a scientific brain and this is just a conjecture… don’t know.

Going back to the drawers metaphor, it might come as a susprise but all the other languages that we learn later in our life will be placed in the same drawer. It means that in my brain sardinian and spanish are in the same place as english. When I’m in Spain or in South America is incredibly difficult for me to speak in english. It is true. It’s like the brain forgets about english and gives way to the other languages. My spanish brain is not as developed as the english one of course but it still prevails over the latter one. It is fascinating. I wonder how a bilingual or trilingual person brain would work then? How many drawers? How many synapses? the thing is, better brain quality means bigger synaptic mass. So is there a limit to the number of languages we can acquire in our life? Or maybe the brain avoids to learn things that are not essential (big brother winners? the complete list of Juventus won trophies?). It would be fun to see how my children will develop their brains. I would like them to be bilingual of course. And if I can trilingual with spanish. If I only could speak sardinian better… It’s a shame I can’t transmit that as well. It’s such a rich language, so unique in the romance family. I wish there was an easy and practical way to teach it but I guess it’s a dead language by now.

Anyway, I just wanted to say these things but I probably couldn’t have done it in italian, or well, I mean so fast (I wrote this in 14 minutes like the old days when i was able to write 2-3 posts in an hour).

10 commenti

Archiviato in Uncategorized

10 risposte a “Fuck yeah brain plasticity!

  1. I often think in a weird mixture of Italian and English. And I find that there are concepts that can be passed on in English much better than in Italian and vice-versa. I am sure that if I knew a third language well enough, I would find concepts that are just simpler in that language than just English or Italian.
    But when I am back to Italy I always find that after a few embarassing hours, all my Italian comes back to me and I even start using dialect again (somethin I never do when I am abroad).

    And I ALWAYS swear in Italian 😀

  2. “And I ALWAYS swear in italian”

    this is something I used to do as well and for some time I thought swearing was one of those things that CAN’T be overcome by another language but… recently even that stopped. I swear in english and even when I’m in Italy. I wish I could still swear in italian so people couldn’t understand me here. 😉

    It is true that after days in Italy the italian brain comes back again but, as soon as I land at Gatwick the brain switches back again and I feel relieved. It’s kind of becoming a physical pain… 😉

  3. How true. Since 6 years I only speak Spanish at home (my wife is from Madrid), mix of French and English at work and rarely Italian (with few friends + Skype). And I actually thought I was going to lose my Italian fluency concerning synonyms, expressions and yes, prepositions and postpositions, mixing up the additional 3 languages that I constantly need to use on a daily basis. And it actually depends on the current habit: when few years ago I was working mostly in English, I was mixing up Spanish and English at home. Then, since 2 years, I almost work only in French and boom, often at home I find easier to use French expressions, mixing them up with Spanish.

    Then, since our son was born (5 months ago) and I started talking to him exclusively in Italian since day 1, I suddenly noticed a big chance: after a while I started talking to my wife in Italian, something I’ve never done before, even though for a few seconds before switching back to Spanish, but it did happen: my brain got it back, unconsciously breaking habits!
    Hence yes, we can actually lose our mother tongue fluency, but it doesn’t take too long to get it back (not perfectly though, but still worth the feeling). The point is: my Italian got mixed up with Spanish as English did years ago or French recently does, thus my native language lost the “privilege” of being native, the first, and it became just yet another language to switch to, to mix with, to improve and double check when in doubt while writing something.

    Side note: reading a book about child education, I discovered that our brain actually learns languages in one side (don’t remember which one right now) till the age of 8-10 (and that makes it easier to assimilate native accents, for instance), then it starts learning them in another side (which makes it more difficult to learn/assimilate/master). Can you confirm that according to your knowledge?

  4. Gian

    Ti seguo da parecchi anni e per l’evoluzione che questo blog ha avuto sono sorpreso che questa cosa non sia successa prima…

  5. It was due to happen sooner or later. Speaking as another Italian expat to an English-speaking country I have to say that what’s happening to you is all too common. As you wrote, you live in a state of immersion: you write, speak, think in English and you enjoy entertainment products written in English and marketed to an Anglophone audience.

    Your brain simply doesn’t process your thoughts through the schemes and structures typical of the Italian language. This is why you find it so hard to switch back to Italian when you’re expressing your feelings or personal opinions on your blog. Your thoughts choose the path of least resistance. You’re so used to write and think in English, and to year people around you use the English language 24/7, that it takes you serious effort to plan and write a blog post in what is supposed to be your mother tongue (although since you’re from Sardinia Italian may not be your “real” mother tongue).

    You brought up swearing which is supposed an area where people retain their first language no matter how much they use a second one. It might comes as a surprise to many but I think that this simply isn’t true. I actually started swearing in English very early on, probably in my first year in the States.

    I prefer English swears to the Italian ones anyway. Swearing to me is all about finding a way to release my anger or frustration so as with many things English is more direct and to the point.

    A short word like “fuck” can have so many meanings (especially here in America) and is much more effective than the long-winded Italian “vaffanculo” which by the way can only be used to insult someone. There’s no real way to convey frustration in Italian as well as English does with “fuck”.

    I mean, how would you translate “fuck that shit!” in Italian? And yet it’s an expression that it’s incredibly useful when you want to vent or end an emotional rant!

  6. @Kirbmarc

    What about “Ma porca puttana!” to translate “fuck” in the sort of impersonal way you seemed to search for and “Maremma maiala, bucaiola, impestata e lurida!” to translate “fuck this shit”?
    If you are after very compact and general purpose swearing probably the brevity of “fuck” wins above anything else. But if you (like me) swear to vent off tension, then a longer and more creative swearing such as the one you can create in Italian (especialy when you come from Florence like me) is a lot more effective 😉

  7. Hi andimama, lo siento mucho pero ahora soy a Madrid y estoy hablando espanol todo el dia… Switiching to english (painfully), I think your situation is quite remarkable. I envy your children. side note: i was thinking that if there was much more mobility within Europe we could really increase the chance to create an esperanto. But from what I read only 2% or so of the european citizen move around Europe. Majority of them born and die within the same 10 km radius which is incredibly sad. Roman citizens probably moved around the empire more than 2015 EU citizens.
    Anyway, going back to your question: I don’t know about this but it sounds interesting. I would need to check it. 😉

  8. Gian, davvero? Forse dovrei farne più spesso di questi post. 😉

  9. Paolo

    Do you fear this “evolution”? If i were you I will keep on writing this blog in italian language or you will forget it…soon.

  10. dottornomade

    It was about time, yo. 😛


Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di WordPress.com

Stai commentando usando il tuo account WordPress.com. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Google photo

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Google. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...