A chocolate box full of people

What happens to the language capabilities of children who are moved from one language environment to another when they are in their adolescence or teenage years? Can you have two native languages in this case, or will one language (or both) suffer?

I have a good friend who was raised in a Cantonese-speaking environment, but moved to Australia when he was 11 years old. His English sounds native and he speaks with an Australian accent, but occasionally he uses phrases or words completely incorrectly (and sensibly laughs it off when I correct him). Because his English is quite advanced (though not native), the errors that he does make are with difficult words or idioms that most students wouldn’t know.

Last night he came up with a gem that had the rest of us guessing for ages what he was talking about. He said that a place was full of chocolate box people. I wondered if Chocolate Box was a shop, and maybe their workers were everywhere. It turns out that he meant that the place was chock-a-block.

I find these misuses both entertaining and fascinating. The more advanced you become in a language, the more complicated or obscure your mistakes are going to be. I’m not sure how his Cantonese scrubs up, but I would be interested to find out. I also think that chocolate box people is brilliant and I will probably use it in the future.

Do you have any funny misuses of English (or any other language) to share?

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