I have no idea how people speak more than two languages. How their mind is able to process which language is which and have the recall of the correct language at the right time. My mind is just not capable of that.
In high school I studied Japanese and in year 10 took of for a while to take part in a student exchange program to Switzerland where I learned, studies and lived in German. My studies of Japanese and German were very different. One was in the classroom and focused around the grammatical structure of the language, the other in the real world, with few formal lessons.
When I returned to school in Australia I took up my Japanese classes where I left off, knowing that I would be a little rusty but thinking that I would be able to catch up with a bit of extra work. WRONG. It wasn’t that I had forgotten all the Japanese I had learned, but that my mind could just not tell which words were Japanese and which were German. All I knew was English and other. I might start a sentence with Japanese but finish in German, or fill in the words that I didn’t know in one language with the other. Basically I was a linguistic mess. I dropped my Japanese classes and tried to take up German by correspondence (the options at my school were Japanese or Indonesian) but that fell through because the high school I went to didn’t really give a shit about academia – but that’s another story. So I lost both the languages eventually. I tried to keep up the German but without anyone to talk with, I quickly dropped the practice.
A few years later I travelled South and Central America and learned conversational and very informal Spanish. When I met Anai I started trying to recall that Spanish and eventually I took lessons to improve on what I little I knew. I’m still learning Spanish, very slowly… like, very slowly, but I plan on one day being fluent.
Now that you have all the background, it is really not all that surprising that when a Japanese immigration officer said to me, “Konichiwa” I responded with “Hola, como estas?”. The surprising bit is that I actually though that I had responded in Japanese… The officer and I than had a small staring competition, an awkward pause which was broken by him asking me “Ms, do you speak English?”.
This idiot responded with “Si”.
That one I blame on sleep deprivation, not just my linguistically challenged brain.
After laughing it off with the officer, I did get into Japan and managed to do so without any further incidents.