Interpreting for Amish in court

News from yet another Kentucky Amish SMV case: defendants will have a PA Dutch interpreter (story no longer online) following difficulties understanding court proceedings.

In this latest case (the third this year in KY, in Logan County), four Amish, including one woman, have been cited for not displaying the orange triangle.

Even though Amish speak English from a young age, and many very capably, we might forget it is still a second language for them.  I speak Polish as a second language, but I’d feel at a distinct disadvantage trying to follow along with legalese in a Polish court, for instance.

No doubt complicating things is that this group is not represented by an attorney.  Also of note is that the defendants are from a conservative Amish background (likely a Swartzentruber group, though I haven’t been able to confirm that).

Amish language learning

Not all Amish schools are the same.  The level of education can vary depending on the orientation of the group. In more conservative Amish schools, children tend to receive a lower level of language training than Amish schoolchildren from more progressive groups.

conservative amish school
Conservative Amish school

Karen Johnson-Weiner, who has done extensive work on both Pennsylvania Dutch language and Old Order education, explores this topic in Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools.

Karen notes that Swartzentruber Amish learn “an English no longer spoken by their non-Amish neighbors” (p 59).  Vocabulary taught in Swartzentruber schools, typically based in outdated school texts like McGuffey’s Readers or the circa-1919 Essentials of Spelling, is archaic (p 58).

Much of it, she notes, is “of little use” in practical matters.   For example, sixth graders “memorize for spelling tests such words as “luncheon”, “telegraph”, “madam”, “trolley”, and “piano””.

Eighth graders must tackle “words no longer used by their English-speaking neighbors, including household terms such as “emetic,” “gimp,” “chiffonier,” and “poultice,”; industrial terms such as “magneto” and “adz”; urban terms such as “jitney” and “linotype”; and rural words such as “Bordeaux,” “sulky,” and “whiffle tree”” (p 58).

There are a number of reasons these texts are used, including “reinforc[ing] a sense of continuity in the community” (p 60).  The net result, though, is that graduates of these schools are likely to have a weaker grasp on the English language.

Thinking in a foreign language

Still, conservative Amish or not, a second language is a second language. Karen quotes an experienced Swartzentruber schoolteacher: “[It] still comes the handiest for me to talk German because that’s the language we use the most” (p 55).  I’d bet most Amish, regardless of church background or occupation, would agree with that statement.

I recently asked someone from a much “higher” Amish group whether dealing in English still “felt” like using a foreign language.  She replied that it did, and that she thinks in PA Dutch, even though she does much work  in English.

I rarely think in Polish, which I began learning about 13 years ago.  I sometimes get close to it, say if I only use it for a few days in a row, like when I’m with family who speak no English.

I’ve always admired people who seem to flow with foreign languages effortlessly.  Even though I can handle a lot of what’s thrown at me in Polish, I don’t belong to that group.

What about other second language learners out there?  Do you think in your second language?  Could you follow along in court?

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    1. I think in Swedish when I speak Swedish and in English when I speak English. If I am just thinking in general and not speaking I think in Swedish or in English if the thing I am thinking about is something I have read about in English. As an English teacher I use English every day but I still see it as my second language and the more I learn the more clearly I see the areas where my English is weaker than my Swedish. As a teen I would have said that my English is as fluent as my Swedish, I don’t now but I know that I am a good second language user.

      I also speak Spanish and German to some degree but I do not think in these languages. If I use them I tend to think in Swedish and then translate.

    2. Lattice

      My Amish friends always speak English when I’m in their presence. Some people in the community seem to have mastered the language while others obviously struggle. It seems to be directly related to how much contact they have with outsiders. Whenever a visitor stops by and I’m there, they will always speak in English, even when they have very poor command of the language. I’ve always thought that was very kind and considerate. However, even the ones who seem to speak English perfectly will say that speaking PA Dutch is easier.

      I think the language center of my brain has permanently sealed its doors! I simply can’t learn another language 🙁

    3. Over the past few years, I have been adding to my vocabulary of American Sign Language. I began learning this to help toddlers, who are not yet speaking, have a way of communicating some of their basic needs. I am still learning so as to be able to have some basic communication with the deaf. I recently learned that in crisis situations, for example with hospitals and police, the deaf really struggle. After about 5 years I find myself thinking the signs as I speak, but only about 10% of the time.

      I grew up hearing some German phrases and I don’t think English first, when I use them.It’s like they are part of my English vocabulary. Maybe like using the word sauerkraut. Other times I have to find the right German words to use, and think English first.

      1. Thinking in sign language

        Fascinating Denise. Some issues I hadn’t ever thought about.

    4. Denise

      A friend of my speaks sign language. She once woke up during the night from having pain in her hands from signing in her sleep… She used to dream and think in sign language all the time when she was studying it but this was the only time she woke up from actually signing.

    5. Interpreting for Amish in Court

      That’s really interesting. My second language is German. I speak/write it fluently. I lived in Germany for a total of three years, in Switzerland for three months and Norway for one year..Yes, I also speak Norwegian, too. At first, it was hard to think in German, because I’m an American who speaks English. However, after my first year living in that country, I started thinking in German. Now I can easily switch, depending on which language I’m using.

      I’m not sure about court. I know that I could follow along, but I might use an interpreter, just to make sure that nuances are not lost in translation.

      I also understand some Swiss German, too…specifically the Swiss German that is spoken in the Basel canton. That is the easiest to understand.

      Greetings from the ocean shores of CAlifornia, Heather

      1. Engish in Scandinavian countries

        A Norwegian friend of mine speaks near-perfect American English. The only time I was reminded that he wasn’t American was when his sister would call from Norway and he’d break into this bizarre-sounding (too my ears) tongue.

        Elin I am not surprised to learn you are an English teacher. Your comments seem written by a native. I know the Scandinavian countries generally have a very high English proficiency. I was told this is in part due to subtitles rather than dubbing on television (but only in part, of course).

        In Poland, I wish they’d go that route as well. I’m sure it would help, though Poland has a higher level of English than a lot of European countries.

    6. courts and representation

      As a follow up to my post on legal issues last week: A decision made in a trial court is not binding on other courts in the state.

      I am surprised the judge is allowing those Amish to represent themselves. If I was the judge, I would have a hard time accepting them as competent to represent themselves in a foreign language and with limited education. I am a native English speaker with a doctorate in law, but as I mostly handle business matters, I would not be comfortable representing a client in a criminal court.

      It is possible that the judge has appointed an attorney to be there at each court appearance in case the Amish decide they want the help. That happens a lot in criminal cases when the judge finds a person incompetent to represent themself, but the accused refuses an attorney.

      James Stytle
      Crawfordsville, Indiana

      1. James, we much appreciate another update from you on the legal side of things.

        I had wondered if you’d ever had any legal involvement in Amish cases; I notice the nearest Amish to Crawfordville are mainly smaller IN communities.

        1. James Stytle

          legal work with Amish


          I have not done any legal work involving Amish individuals or businesses. I have spent a lot of time in the Amish community in Parke County, Indiana, and I once had a great conversation with an Amish fence builder about the difficulty of collecting debts. It was not a professional conversation — we were just swapping stories.

          I have noticed that most of the Amish businesses in Parke County are organized as limited liability companies. I took a friend from Adams County, Indiana, with me to Parke County, and he was surprised to see LLCs instead of sole proprietorships. The enclosed buggies also caught his attention.

          James Stytle

    7. Jackie

      I would need an interpretar just to understand the legal terms and I only speak English!

      1. James Stytle

        legal language

        I met a bilingual lawyer that was fluent in Spanish (her native language). She said that she would request a court interpreter if she was representing a Spanish-speaking client, because she did not know the legal terms in Spanish.

    8. Wow, this post really brings up a lot of questions. I once took a “Language and Thought” class and we explored the whole idea of whether or not we think in a language or in images or in some other way entirely. We also explored whether language determines our thoughts or whether our thoughts determine our language. I wanted to say that we sometimes think in images, other times we think in a language, still other times we think in some other way, such as in song. As individuals we may all vary in how we think — some people are more visual, some more auditory, etc. The professor did not like this answer — she thought there had to be some universal way people think.

      I know I think in language, at least my conscious thoughts. (Who knows what those are that lie in the unconscious, not accessible by language). About eight years after leaving the Amish, in the throes of my healing from my abusive past, I had strong feelings against all things Amish. At the time I was still thinking in Amish. So I made a conscious effort to change that. Whenever I would think in Amish, I would say to myself, “Okay, now think that in English.” In this painstaking way, I made myself think in English. With that came a whole new understanding of English, for I found that it is a much more expressive language than the German dialect that was my native language. For instance, we did not have words for “I love you.” “Lievve” was a noun, but not a verb. One would have to say, “I have ‘lievve’ for you.” Not that I ever heard anyone say that. Rather, the closest someone came to saying such a thing was when they said, “I think a lot of you.” So thinking in English language gave me new ways of expressing myself, which I found liberating.

      For years, whenever I went back to visit my family, I would fall right back into using my native language. Then I skipped visiting for three years, and when I went back, I found myself faltering with the language, even though I could still understand it well. Each year when I went back, it got a bit harder, until during one visit I discovered to my horror that I can no longer converse in the Amish dialect without getting stuck in the middle of a sentence not knowing how to say something. I had to switch to English to express myself. And the Amish in my community were not the least bit sympathetic — they thought I was faking it. They said things like, “You never lose your mother tongue.”

      Well, I did. And things went from bad to worse. I learned high German. Now when I want to talk in the Amish dialect, I have both German and English getting in the way. And because my parents are now gone, my connections to my original community are weak, so having a chance to use the language is lessening. And now I’ve lost enough of it that I can no longer “translate” my thoughts into that language. And most likely I have thoughts that don’t fit the language any longer.

      This is a long reply to your questions, Erik. For the Amish in the courtroom, there is more than a language barrier — there is also a cultural barrier. Not only would they not be able to express themselves in English in such a situation, but they also don’t have words in their own language to express themselves in this “foreign” situation, especially if this is one of the more recluse groups of Amish. This is like you knowing Polish well enough to get by and then having to defend yourself in a Polish court without understanding their system or rules.

      I don’t know what a solution is for this problem. I certainly understand why the Amish cannot keep endangering themselves, their children, and the car and truck drivers by driving nearly invisible buggies on the road. It reminds me of a stubborn eighteen-year-old, hell-bent on doing something unlawful and expecting there will be no consequences for his actions. He is old enough to make his own decisions, but he’s going to need the help of his parents to navigate the system, yet he won’t listen to their advice. What does a parent do with a son like that? For the Amish to adhere stubbornly to their ways and even be willing to go to jail for their beliefs (like good martyrs), refuse to hire a lawyer to defend them (which is what it sounds like they are doing), and put themselves into the situation of not understanding the language or the culture of the courts creates a dilemma for everyone, including the judge. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this.

      1. Saloma this was a fascinating response. Makes me look forward to finally cracking into your book (very soon).

        Frankly, the idea of losing a mother tongue has always been hard for me to conceive. But I realize it can happen–or at least a weakening of it. I can imagine how that was a tough one to explain, not to mention find any sympathy for.

    9. Laura

      I’ve been working as a legal transcriber for many years now, and I’ve often seen an interpreter used, even when a witness is just *remarkably* fluent in English. There have been times when I suspect the witness speaks better English than the interpreter, to tell you the truth! And there have been times when I, with even my weak understanding of, say, Spanish, can tell that the interpreter is doing a poor job of translating. The skill level of the interpreter really can have an effect on the total proceedings; a poor interpreter is sometimes more obstructive than helpful.

      It really takes an interpreter well-versed in the nuances of legal language and legal phrasing to do a really accurate job of interpreting in most cases, although there is the rare attorney who can modify their language to the level of a non-legalese-speaking witness. As a result of my experience, though, I’m more curious who’s working as the witness in these cases than I am surprised that an interpreter is used! To find someone who speaks PA Dutch fluently and yet also grasps the specific language used in court must be difficult.

      But I’m sure that having the interpreter there is a comfort for the Amish defendants/witnesses, just to know that there’s someone available who can translate terms they aren’t familiar with and help them understand the flow of legal proceedings. It really is a different world for the majority of people.

    10. Laura

      I meant, of course, I’m more curious who’s working as the *interpreter,* not the *witness.* Teach me to not reread my comment before publishing!

    11. Ed

      Do Non-Amish ever attend Amish schools?

      Sounds like most Amish learn foreign languages as very young children – the best time to learn a language and something that mainstream American elementary schools are only now beginning to offer. Having struggled through learning Chinese as an adult, I have often thought how much easier things would be had I learned it as a child!

      Question: Do any non-Amish send their children to an Amish school? While their curriculum is certainly not standard, I bet their are some parents who would appreciate certain aspects of the Amish curriculum, for example, learning a 2nd language, a fact-based learning, and religius content. Does it ever happen?

      1. kerry

        Ed, it would be almost unheard of for an English child to attend an Amish parochial school now. When I was young the community I lived in did have a number of Mennonites (not always super conservative) who attended the Amish schools.

        Where I live now, there are public elementary schools of which the majority of students are Amish with some non-Amish students. English language only spoken, obviously, but conversing in the Amish dialect is not verboten, and Amish religious and other values are the norm within curriculum and activities.

    12. Scandinavia and English

      I do think subtitles play a role in people here speaking and understanding English well. Many, me too, speak in a mainly American accent too which British people often find weird. I think they think we should speak like they do since the UK is much closer.

      As a teacher I would also say that Sweden has a long tradition of teaching English in school. My parents born in the 1940s spoke tolerable English and people born in the 70s and onwards often speak English at a good second language level and some much better than that.

      I also think that the Scandinativan countries are aware of the fact that their languages are not world languages and never will be so English is necessary.

      Within Scandinavia we can speak our respective language and make ourselves understood but outside, not so much. I remember being at a hostel in London speaking to a Danish girl and two Finnish guys. An Australian guy went by and said something like ‘Oh, are you all from the same country?’ and we answered ‘no’ and I added that me and the Finnish guys spoke Swedish and the other girl Danish. He didn’t know that Danish and Swedish is that similar or that many Finnish people also speak Swedish, some even as a first language (these guys were Finnish speakers though). Those of you keeping track of all the discussions here at Amish America might have seen the discussions I had in another thread with some other Scandinavians. In writing it is even easier to understand Norweigian and Danish. Icelandish is very hard though, it is like a drunk Norweigan who makes up his own words here and there. The sound is familiar although a bit slurred but you cannot understand some things.

      1. Matt from CT

        Something about your post reminded me of my Junior High math teacher.

        I come from a town with a big Finnish population. Like my dad, my math teacher had spoken Finnish at home. (My mom’s family were French, and she was the first in her family to not be a native French speaker; her two older sisters were both fluent but the family switched to English when they began school.)

        Anyway the point of my post — my math teacher was a youth touring Europe at the height of anti-Vietnam War sentiment with a fellow Finnish-American friend. They spent most of the summer speaking to each other in Finnish since it didn’t attract negative attention.

    13. Christina

      I’ve noticed that other countries (mostly European) seem to have a better grasp on teaching 2nd languages at a much earlier age than we do in America. For example, we had a foreign exchange student when I was in high school. He grew up in East Germany (the wall was down by the time he came to us) and learned Russian and English in school from a very early age. He now teaches English in China. I didn’t even have a chance to learn another language in school until the 7th grade and we only had a choice of French or Spanish. This may not be true of all areas. I did grow up in a small town in Maryland and am a victim of the public school system.

    14. Forest

      My grandfather’s parents spoke both Welsh and English, with Welsh being the first language. When they immegrated to the US, they spoke Welsh in the home and in front of people they didn’t want to understand them. When I was about 12, I asked my grandfather to teach me Welsh. He stopped reading the newspaper, looked at me over his glasses and said “Oh, you want to learn some Welsh, do you? Well, Cau dy geg! When I asked him what that meant, he said it meant “shut up”, smiled, and went back to his paper.

      An irrelevant story, yes, but I will note that language is more than simple words; it embodies ways of thinking and expressing thoughts and concepts that often can’t be translated into another language effectively. The term “hiraeth” in Welsh is often translated as “homesickness”, but it’s meaning can go way beyond that. In Spanish “manana” (my keyboard won’t make the sign over the n) may just mean “tomorrow”, or a more vague sense of just “not today”. When a language is lost, I think we lose much more than mere speech.

      So I can see why the Amish would find it desirable to have a qualified interpreter to assist them in the courtroom.

    15. Al in Ky.

      This was a very interesting post (especially the section on
      “Amish language learning”) as I reflected on my experience in
      the Daviess County and Orange County,Indiana settlements. When
      I’m in Daviess County, a fairly progressive Amish community, I
      find myself talking normal speed and using the same English I use all the time. The Amish there seem to be using English very similar to what I use. When I’m in Orange County, a conservative Swartz. Amish community, I find myself talking slower and many times choosing simpler words to use than I normally do, and the Amish sometimes using English words I rarely hear. I hadn’t really thought about this until reading in today’s post about the type of English that Swartz. Amish learn in their schools. I learn something new all the time from Amish America!

    16. kerry

      I can see why they would need help in court. My neighbors are mainly Swartzentruber and I often have a hard time understanding them speaking English, and sometimes they don’t understand me even when I try to speak a more “simple” vocabulary, if you will. On my end, though, it’s the very strong accent that causes difficulty; on their end, it’s more the vocabulary and speed of speech of native English.

      The other orders of Amish can have strong accents when speaking English but their English vocabulary is typical and everyone understands each other better. We can also usually tell when someone was formerly Amish but no longer, the accent even when very mild and cadence are very familiar. My husband who worked for many years with a formerly Amish man and who now works regularly within the Amish community sometimes says (English) words with an Amish “inflection” and our kids always say “you’re talking Amish again!” He’s not even aware he’s doing it. His coworkers often make comments about it.

      So interesting, how language works!

      1. OldKat

        I once heard an after dinner speaker who is from South Texas tell the story of how while visiting in France he learned that a whole group of Germans were staying at the same hotel where he was staying. Since he had been studying German for some time he was excited for the opportunity to try out his German language skills. He went out on the patio and engaged the first person that he knew to be one of the Germans in a hearty conversation. He said that from the man’s responses he knew that the man could in fact understand him, yet he had a puzzled look on his face. So he asked the man if he had a problem understanding him. The man said: “No, but you do have me confused. You LOOK like you are French, but you are SPEAKING German with a Mexican accent!”

        Seeing as how he was from a community very close to the Texas / Mexican border that should not be completely surprising. Odds are his “German” teacher very well may have been someone that spoke Mexican style Spanish as their first language or if they spoke English as a first language it was heavily influenced by Spanish, albeit Tex-Mex Spanish or Spanglish as we call it.

    17. Tom-GA

      mother tongue

      Eric: The old saying if you don’t use it you lose it, is true. My sister-in-law left Germany at the age of 16 or 17 years of age.
      She is in her mid 70s now and recently returned to Germany to visit family and has done so fairly regularly. She stubbed her toe one night going to the bath room and thought she had broken it. She was taken to the ER of a local hospital and could not communicate with the doctors. She had a rough time with her “Mother Tongue”

      1. Tom, that old saying is absolutely true, even when it’s your mother tongue. I can still understand it, but I cannot speak it. Who knows whether I’ll understand any of it when I’m in my seventies. I can see how your sister-in-law’s situation could happen.

    18. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Le buggy

      My mother language is English. In certain grades of elementary and high school I was taught French. My 7th grade French teacher once told me that Quebec French and the French of Ontario schools is a mix of 1600s French grammar and modern English, that is, modern English words made to sound French, a popular word was the translation of means of transport “bus” into “l’autobus” (“lotto boose”). The language is a “a bastardization” someone else explained.

      I am not saying that the Amish have this issue, the argument is that the Canadian and North American French language didn’t evolve much since Samuel du Champlain and had to add outside words to suit, but I just don’t know that much about the dialects of the various languages any given Amish person might speak. Repeating myself sort of, I don’t know if Pennsylvania Dutch evolved from the time of original settlement or how Low German flowered and flourished among believers. Know what I mean. Do they have an issue like this?

      1. OldKat

        We go to church with a lady who is of French Canadian ancestry. Several years ago I heard her mention a recent visit her family had made to see her and how while they were down this way she took them over to a festival in South Louisiana. They were all standing around listening to the Cajun people speak and her father whispered to her “Just listen to what they have done to the language!” I didn’t say anything to her, but I suspect that a person from France would think something similar whether they heard the South Louisiana Cajuns or the French Canadians speak. There is just no way to take a group of speakers of any language, isolate them from the parent community and NOT experience a drift in the language. The reality is the language of both groups probably evolved, but since they are in isolation from each other they evolved differently.

    19. SHOM

      This sounds a little like an old-fashioned understanding of languages that you have heard. Just because a dialect borrows from another language it hasn’t stagnated and it is developing, just in another direction than its origin. If the language works for the situations it is used it is full and living language but Quebec French might not be as useful in France but in Quebec it is a working and living dialect.

      In northern Sweden we have a big Finnish speaking population which similarily to what you describe use more old-fashioned grammar than Finnish in general and they also use many words borrowed from Swedish. Finnish people do not always understand this dialect and people speaking the dialect do not always understand Finnish but within the community it is a living spoken dialect which some even want classified as their own language. When Sweden chose to list some minority languages which you have the right to use in contacts with authorities they first only listed Finnish but after some discussion they have not also had to add Tornedalsfinska which is the name of this particular dialect as a minority language which is separate from Finnish because of the communication issues that might come because of the borrowed words and the old-fashioned grammar. However, it is not a dialect that has stagnated, it is just that sometimes languages move in different directions.

    20. Greg Stutzman


      Fascinating commentary by Elin. As previously alluded to, the Eurozone is light years beyond the United States in multi-lingual skills. While this makes travel throughout Europe much more convenient for us, it also makes me feel a bit ignorant in comparison to Europeans.

      The last time I was in my hometown of Berlin, OH, we were seated in a restaurant beside a large Swartzie family. Father, Mother & four children. The children and the mother barely spoke a single word throughout the entire meal. It was very strange and somewhat disturbing given the father’s demeanor.

    21. Susie

      I have Finnish parents who moved to Canada before I was born. I learned Finnish first and English sometime before starting school. By the time I was in school my Dad would always try to get us to speak Finnish at home so that we wouldn’t forget it. We moved to Finland for 2 years when I was 9, by the time we came back to Canada, I had trouble speaking in English! It is amazing how quickly children learn language and how quickly you can forget another if you never use it. European countries start their forgein language studies very early. My sister was in grade 3 in a Finnish school and they were studying English already then. And yes, when we came back to Canada, I had to translate what I wanted to say from Finnish to English in my mind. Now, I can understand Finnish (or at least the Finnish that my Mom speaks, which is different I think than what they would speak in Finland now, since she moved away in the 1960s.), but have a bit of trouble speaking it – a bit rusty as the Finnish would say.

    22. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Elin and Greg Stutzman

      Elin, I see what you are saying, and I do agree with you. thank you for sharing the example of the Tornedalsfinska language. Canadian / Quebec French is an interesting dialect to me because it does seem to me to be a direct linguistic link to our country’s heritage from a turbulent and fascinating era of war and discovery, I don’t feel it’s inferior at all as a language.
      Keep in mind too, that when I was explained about the language I was in the seventh grade, and although I was a bright kid, some things needed to be explained simplistically.

      Greg Stutzman; despite the multiculturalism in Canada, we are like your description of the USA vs. abroad in Europe. I think the Public Television tour guide Rick Steves put it best when he (I’m paraphrasing) explained that many Europeans are multilingual because of the close proximity of different nations and the overlapping of different languages over different boarders, it isn’t impossible for a European youth to be fluent in three or four different languages. Which is amazing since so many people here in North America have trouble with one other language (and I am not counting immigrants who can speak either English or French [depending on where they are in Canada] and only their native tongue).

    23. Lee Ann

      I speak in english and sign language. I do not use ASL. I sign in pidgen which is a combination of ASL and English signing. When I am tired, I will end up signing instead of talking.

      I do not think in sign language, only in english. I have some knowledge of German as that is part of my ancestory and I took classes in this when I was young. I can read it, but do not think in German either.

      I use an interpreter in court. I ask for a total communications interpreter that uses sign language and speaks. I myself have a rough time lip reading those who speak German or have the strong accent. Its to gutteral and doesn’t come out in the front, thus making it difficult to lip read.

      My daughter is fluent in four languages, but only thinks in English.

    24. Ann

      Interpreting for the Amish in court

      I find this conversation very interesting. My first language is English, I have some Spanish and ASL. I “taxi” for the Amish in our area and find that there is a variety of language use in my car. Some passengers chat almost exclusively in the Amish dialect except when they speak to me while others use English for the most part. One regular customer has apologized for speaking Amish in my car because she feels that it is “rude”. I have told her that I don’t consider it rude when she speaks to other Amish in front of me as long as I don’t hear my name (LOL)! Some, especially the younger women, switch back and forth, throwing in English words for which there may be no Amish (products, etc.) I had a local bishop explain to me that the Amish word for ‘six’ sounds like ‘sex’ and he didn’t want me to think they were talking about sex. That kind of tickled me as I really don’t listen that closely to conversations. I find that children under the age of 5 don’t understand a lot of English and when I talk to them their mothers will often translate my comment to them and then translate their comments back to me. Some school age children speak English very well and others do not. I think one determining factor is how much contact their family has with the English, those that have shops or stores often speak better English, using idioms and slang more frequently. One teen uses “whatever” and “no way” quite a bit. I am learning a word here or there but no way can I follow conversation.

    25. Wilson, R R

      Think in a second language?

      Ha! I can hardly think in my own. In fact,not thinking before I speak has placed me in deep trouble too many times.
      I grew up in Louisiana, but remote from the southern part of the state where most Cajun’s live. As an adult I migrated down south , was surrounded by them, had many friends who spoke the Cajun dialect and English perfectly, sometimes mixing the two in a conversation. Yet, I could only translate word for word, could not conjugate or develope sentence structure for conversation.

      And let’s not even talk about learning a foreign language in school. I tried and tried, just did not happen. Where was my mind??? Oh, yeah! I did get married while in college.

    26. Adam

      My former French professor (who is from Scotland) said that you know you’re fluent in a language when you dream in it. I asked a multilingual Saudi friend of mine what language he thinks in. He said both English and Arabic. But, the thing is, he REGULARLY uses English, even to other Arabs, so that, I think may be the difference.