Home / Various and Sundry / illiterate in two languages

illiterate in two languages

My friend, Jonna, sometimes jokes that she is illiterate in two languages. I am beginning to think that I can’t spell in two languages. I’ve always been good at spelling. One of my first real non-babysitting jobs was correcting papers for a sixth grade teacher.

Staring at the spellcheck underlined word, I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong.I try to correct spellings first before depending on spellcheck. Spellcheck and I don’t  always agree. Our vocabularies are usually quite dissimilar and it’s guesses can change my sentences in a bizarre way when I let autocorrect function automatically.Therefore, I try to figure out my errors on my own, correcting  without relying on the computer.  Sounding the word out, doesn’t help anymore, I seem to be using Spanish phonetics rather than English in my orthography. “F” replaces “ph” as in foto or farmacy. I have consistently been using “e” instead of “i” and vice versa. For example,the word that was causing me so much problem? Entertainment, I spelled it intertainment and no matter what I couldn’t  figure out where I had gone wrong.

About Theresa Diaz Gray

Born in New York City, I grew up in California, and have lived in 3 countries and 6 states. I'm a first generation Cuban-American who lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. I'm committed to living an abundant and creative life and helping others do so too through DIY!


  1. Mikey, that happens to me too! I don’t think it’s from getting old (can’t be since neither of us are old yet!).

    Sharon, that makes so much sense! It’s the idioms that trip people up. In Spanish you “put your attention on” something while in English “you pay attention to”it.
    Don’t worry, I found it interesting!

    Steve, disillusional,it could be one of those words with two contrary meanings, like mundane!1) to be able to pierce the veil of illusion, 2)to self delude and be in a disassociate state….


  2. I find that I am simply making up words these days — both in English and Spanish. They make perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, no one else seems to have the slightest idea in what I am saying. I guess that makes me disillusional (see what I mean?)in two languages.

  3. (all of which was probably way more info than you needed or wanted to know about translating!!)

  4. You’d be a wonderful translator! The most important thing is to be able to write well in your native language. I wasn’t even all that fluent in French, but as long as I got the gist of what they were saying, I was to be able to take what was being said and put it into English using the right descriptive language and nuances. (Which is why computerized translations never work!) Of course, unless you’re truly 100% fluent in 2 languages (e.g. children of immigrants who grow up speaking the ‘mother tongue’ at home), always translate INTO your native language. Otherwise, your work may end up on a website like this one 🙂

  5. I was pleased to read your blog and learn that I am not alone! Not only do I often forget how to spell in English, I completely forget the word in English. Two recent examples are eggplant and avocado. I was explaining some foods to my aunt on the telephone and couldn’t remember how to say them in English!

    This getting old stuff is for the birds! The vultures!

  6. Sharon, I didn’t know that there was a difference between being a translator and an interpreter. I bet I could be a translator! It’s so much easier to write and correct than have to speak! I sound much more literate on paper.
    Spell check isn’t always a help, I often have to keep respelling, either getting it correct by myself or getting close enough that spell check can supply the word!

    Rita, I am glad to hear it’s not just me. Some spellings just make more sense in Spanish don’t they? Some are just odd in either language. Now that you are moving NOB it should be interesting to see which spellings like piyamas stick!


  7. I completely understand. Photo has become foto and I don’t remember how to spell pijamas in English. And I am an English teacher!

  8. I know exactly what you mean, and I’m not even close to fluent in a second language any more. But back when I was in college, I became certified as a French translator (which is written, as opposed to an interpreter, which is oral) – just because it was fun. But I found that I was losing my ability to spell correctly in English – which, like you, was something I had always prided myself on!

    So I can imagine that it’s really a challenge when you’re fluent in 2 (or more!) languages and are moving back and forth between them constantly. I guess that’s when spell check really does come in handy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll To Top