This is a postscript to my October 17, 2022 post where I proposed again that most autistic people are genetic remnants from the deep past when humanity possessed less language than today.
Something I don’t think I’ve ever written about is the role language memory seems to play when someone autistic attempts to learn other languages.
Though I spent five years learning French in high school, and I could carry on a simple conversation in French when I was twenty years old, I was probably in the lower half of my classes in test scores. Nevertheless, not yet seeing any problem, I decided then that I was also going to learn Spanish.
Though I spent a year in Mexico learning it on my own, and two years learning it intensively in university, and have continued working at it all my life, I’ve never achieved speaking fluency in Spanish. I’ve been fluent reading it for at least twenty years, one of the greatest pleasures of my life, but I still stumble trying to speak it. Listening is different again. If a speaker is from central Mexico, which means they’re probably from Mexico city, I can follow them pretty well. If they’re from the east coast of Mexico, or the Caribbean, or South America, and, especially, if they’re from Spain, I have to listen to a person for an hour or so before I begin to pick up their words.
I’ve been contemplating this difficulty for years and I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the central problems is that the vocabulary for speaking, listening, reading, and writing, are in 4 different compartments, with no direct access to each other.
Do you see what I mean? I can only do one of those things at a time. I’m fluent only in reading because the reading compartment has the biggest vocabulary, by far, which, by the way, includes the accompanying grammar. My grammar understanding varies with each compartment too.
Incidentally, this even applies to English. In elementary school I was always an above average reader, but struggled listening to teachers, speaking myself, and in writing.
I suspect that this is not something peculiar to me, but I’ve never read any study on it. If anyone can direct me to one, I would be grateful.
But autistic people are as variable as the neurotypical population, if not more so. One of the characteristics of Asperger’s individuals (if I can refer to Aspies as still existing following their deletion from the DSM5) is supposed to be that they don’t suffer from language impediments.
I would like to know how other autistic readers of this blog (including anyone who, like me, has self-diagnosed themselves as autistic) have fared in learning languages, and if they felt it to be different from the language learning experience of peers.