Marion Cotillard & dealing with language-specific topics as a multilingual

31 May 2013

A recent interview of the French actress Marion Cotillard on the French TV news made me think about how a multilingual person almost invariably prefers one language for certain topics.

Her interview starts about 33 minutes in the video. The first two or three questions from the French journalist are the most revealing about her linguistic preferences. While in Cannes, promoting her latest film, the Immigrant, she appears very ill-at-ease talking to the French journalist. If you are not familiar with the actress, she is a French native speaker. I believe she lives with her French partner in Paris and has a son. She started her career in French-speaking movies but shot to fame after playing Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. She is now acting in a lot of English language films. 

At the beginning of the interview, she explains that she doesn't like being interviewed  in general but there is more to it. The journalist asks her why she always seems much more cheerful, joyful in English. And she is very uncomfortable, cannot find the words or an explanation as to why she struggles being interviewed in French. For me, a French speaker, it feels very uncomfortable watching it. She seems to be looking for every single word. It also feels very familiar.

I studied in England, learned about linguistics, language acquisition and bilingualism there. I never really read much on the topic in French. I struggle(d) really badly attending academic conferences in France! I hate it to be honest. I cannot talk about my research topic in French. It takes me twice as long to find the words (if I know them at all). And to top if off, my interlocutors cannot understand why I may appear to struggle. This is one of the reason I do not blog in French.

I believe Marion Cotillard may have been 'suffering' from the same problem. She has recently been acting in Hollywood movies and must be surrounded by English-speaking people in her professional life.

Of course, this can be reversed and solved with a lot of hard work and exposure to the topic in your other language. P, when he started his new job, two years ago, had to learn all of the technical vocabulary relating to his job in French and Portuguese (his native language) as he suddenly had to deal with clients speaking only those languages. He had previously been working almost exclusively in English. This was a challenge added to the learning of German, our new host country's language. Some days he would come back home telling me: "I don't know what language I am speaking right now."  He now feels comfortable in Portuguese. And is working daily on the others.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to use one of your language for a specific topic? Tell me which one and what for? I would love to read about your experiences.


  1. My husband, a native of France, struggles to speak French when talking about his work. He stumbles and pauses, searching for words. He's worked in the US most of his career.

  2. We only speak German together with my husband. it is our language. I don't feel our relationship in French. Maybe because we learnt each other here in Germany and not in France. It may have been the other way round there... Who knows? Also for my job, I can perfectly explain and sell you our products and talk about company in German or in English - because of hearing and talking thousand times. But it is much more difficult in French - my native language.


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