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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Subject: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue
Question: I was wondering if you have encountered this problem before. My 99
year old uncle who has been living in Canada, practising medicine and
speaking English for almost 70 years, has suddenly begun to speak
only Spanish. He lived in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. We can
also get him to speak French, as he lived in France shortly thereafter.
Neither of these is his native tongue. He grew up speaking Hungarian
and German in the home and at school. We think a Spanish speaking
caregiver has unlocked a door to a period of his life and closed off
another. We are anxious to get him to communicate with us again in
English as this Spanish speaking is causing a lot of problems. He is
otherwise in good health both mentally and physically. He
understands that he should be speaking English and acknowledges,
in Spanish or French, that he is having trouble speaking English. Do
you have any suggestions?

Reply: I would infer that your uncle probably had a minor stroke that caused some damage.
You might therefore want to take him to a neurologist. This kind of phenomenon
does occur. I doubt that it is the caregiver's "fault." You might also want to consult a
speech-language pathologist who specializes in multilingualism, or at least who
speaks Spanish.
Reply From: Susan D Fischer      click here to access email
Date: 22-Apr-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (22-Apr-2013)
  2. Re: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (23-Apr-2013)

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