When a person asks me such a question, I don’t know how to answer it. Well, I would say that Language is something mystical for me. At school I studied in Kazakh-medium school, where Russian was taught as a second language and English as a foreign language. The most interesting things happened when we started learning English. The textbooks were by Russian authors; accordingly all the rules were in Russian. The teacher had to explain things in Kazakh. So now, just try to imagine: An English subject. Rules in Russian. Explanation in Kazakh. And all of these within one sentence! Complete mess! Nevertheless, we managed to understand. This story had its continuation in the university too. But here we did more serious things, for instance translating exercises from English into Russian, or vice-versa; but presenting them either in Kazakh or in English. Then I tried to teach English in English to Russian-speakers at work; And Russian, as an interethnic language, was used as a common one within the office. At this period of my life, Kazakh, my native language, was used only at home.
Considering the whole situation, I found it wise to differentiate the purposes these three languages used for. Then it turns out to be that I use English for academic purposes, Russian for communication in more formal contexts and Kazakh for daily household purposes. So, to be me, how would you answer the question? Can we consider such a person as being fluent in any of these languages?
Let’s take our daily cases now. While listening to professors lecturing, do you always translate what you hear? Can you always explain that easily in your native language? If you are trilingual, then what language it is easy for you to deliver the gained knowledge? Do you use all these three languages in the same amount and frequency? Does your speech always sound the same way you intended to? Is it possible to express the same emotions and feelings the same way in all these languages?
In this respect, there is research discussed by Dewale and Nakana (2013) on perceptions and feelings of multilinguals. He defines the change in personality and feelings while switching the languages. According to this research, a person is more logical, emotional and sincere while speaking his native language. But if he speaks in other languages, he seems to show the shift in personality, fake or unnatural emotions and feeling. Also he becomes more serious trying to make himself understood, that is why the speech is dry. After reading the research, my conclusions on why the words, like “sorry”, “forgive me”, I love you” or “thank you” seem to be the hardest in native language, were confirmed.
To sum up, I would like to say that, may be this is not the most important issue, but is worth paying attention. As far as, how clear we think affects on how well we concentrate and how well we understand; and this is what matters.
Dewaele, J. M., & Nakano, S. (2013). Multilinguals’ perceptions of feeling different when switching languages. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(2), 107-120.