“English Makes My Dutch Worse!”

A while back I posted a video on YouTube about the language you think in.

And I got this comment:

This is more common than you might think.

What TealFalls is talking about here, is something language-scientists call ‘activation’. I mentioned this briefly in this video, but let’s talk about in detail, here.

Have a watch of this video:

In a nutshell…

This is something I talk about in my book Think English, Speak English, but most people find their first language gets in the way of their English. BUT as your proficiency gets better, it does happen the other way, too.

The reason this happens is because…

You CAN’T switch off a language.

… ever.

If you know two languages, they’ll always be switched on in your brain. And they’ll always be fighting with each other. If I see a pencil, in my mind the word “pencil” is activated… but so is the word “enpitsu” (Japanese).

This obviously uses up a lot of energy.

If you’re always switching between languages you’ll get tired, fast. So what your brain does is weak or strengthen one language, depending what you are currently using.

If I am speaking English all day, my English will be much stronger than my Japanese. But if I’m speaking Japanese all day, my Japanese will become stronger (even though English is my first language).

Think of it like a see-saw with English on one end, and Japanese on the other.

The Important Thing for Your to Know Is This

Like a see-saw, what is ‘up’ and what is ‘down’ is constantly changing.

The more you use English and are exposed to English, the stronger your English will become. But as soon as you stop, it starts getting weaker again. This means not only is HOW MUCH time you spend in English important but also HOW OFTEN.

A little, Often

A little English often is better than a lot, only occasionally. Because you need to keep that see-saw balanced. The longer you leave it, the weaker it gets.

If You Want to Speak Fluently

It means sense then, that if you want to speak fluently in English, you need to keep your English’s ‘activation’ level up as high as you can.

And there are ways to make this easier – learning in a way that doesn’t require translation, learning from the right materials (to get the right kind of language – again, to avoid translation). There are also several exercises you can do to keep activation up all the time.

That, however, is beyond this short article.

If you want to learn all about this (and more) go take a look at my book Think English, Speak English. If you’ve got Kindle Select, it’s free to read. But even if not, it costs less than a cup of coffee.


Julian Northbrook
The Language Punk

P.S. In my book, Think English, Speak English, I discuss this topic in detail, and share with you several exercises and ways to keep your English strong – Get it Here.


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Julian Northbrook

Julian Northbrook is an unconventional punk of the business English learning world. A leading expert in English education and direct response marketing, he’s fully equipped to drag you kicking and screaming from English-mediocracy to speaking at an outstanding level. After being turned down for his dream job in the art industry, Julian suffered three long years as a crap Japanese speaker. He understands exactly what it’s like to feel like a total idiot every time you speak. But Julian overcame his language problems, mastered the language, and went on to work first as a freelance translator, then as an executive member of a Japanese company. But he soon grew sick of the corporate world and left it to pursue something infinitely more satisfying — running his own business helping small business owners and entrepreneurs get so good at English that they forget that it’s not their first language. He writes the infamous Doing English Daily Newsletter which you can (and should) subscribe to.