What language do you think in?

@rhinoboy (2129)
February 2, 2007 8:25am CST
Embarrassingly, I only speak English. I learned a little French in high school, but lack of practice and time has obliterrated most of that. I'm very curious to know, if you're multi lingual, speaking 2 3 or more separate languages, do you always 'think' in your first language then translate it before speaking?
5 people like this
31 responses
• Canada
2 Feb 07
I'm bilingual, English/French, with English being my mother tongue. There have been times when I've wanted to tell my husband something and I can only think of the French word LOL Since he was born in KY and only moved here to be with me a few years ago, he doesn't have the French language yet. So, between us, we manage to figure out what I'm trying to say LOL If it happens with my kids, I just tell them in French because they're doing well in the second language now. But I almost always think in English, then translate to French, when there is time to think about what I'm going to say. If I'm already in a French conversation, I follow it exclusively in French - no "translating" in my head.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
2 Feb 07
Thanks for that. It's exactly what i was looking for. Do you think that the translation thing only stops when you reach a fluent level of the new language?
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• Canada
2 Feb 07
I do. I think we are inherently self-conscious about making mistakes in a second language. We don't trust our instincts and "allow" ourselves to think freely. My older daughter is an example of this. She is very good in French but continues to lack confidence in speaking it. If she has an assignment for French class, I still see her writing out her ideas in English before tackling the French. My other daughter, who is not self-conscious about potential mistakes, will handle an assignment full steam ahead in French, no translation. Once we perceive ourselves to be fluent, I think the translation is less likely.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
2 Feb 07
That's fascinating, that attitude and confidence hav esuch a huge effect on the learning process. You're doing a great thing by teaching your kids to be bi-lingual. I hope to encourage my daughter to learn another language from an early age, but that depends on my learning it first!! Unfortunately we have no particular ties to any other language or country, so there isn't any real benefit to be had at the moment.
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• India
9 Mar 07
i usually think in mother tongue then i try to translate in which ever language i want. and i am multi lingual. i know four language and trying to learn other so many languages also. i think before speaking one should think in mother tongue and then translate that will more easier.
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@Zmugzy (773)
9 Mar 07
Having spent a few years of my life travelling and living in Brazil I can speak portuguese fairly fluently as well as my native language of English. I do still find myself thinking in portuguese from time to time even though I have no one here in England with whom to speak portugues. I also have dreams where I am only speaking portuguese.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
9 Mar 07
That sounds amazing! I really should travel more and learn another language.
• Saint Vincent And The Grenadines
9 Mar 07
well i speak spanish, my native language, english and gallego fluently. Then a lil french. When i speak in english or gallego i don't need to translate all the time, since it's fluent enough in my head already. But in french i am not as skillful yet, so yes, sometimes i need to stop and think about it in spanish first and then try to find the words in fench. But hopefully i will reach a great level in a year or two. Then i will go for another language!
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@rhinoboy (2129)
9 Mar 07
Congratulations. I can only admire a person with linguistic skills like yours. Can you tell me what circumstances allow you to use each of these languages? Do you travel a lot for work or have family from different countries. As i said above, I don't learn languages well as I never really have the opportunity to speak anything other than English.
• India
12 Feb 07
It is natural to assume that one always think in one's mother tongue. But it is not always true. The language which one speakes in his day to day life, and he uses most often, that language his mind will use. But that is a slow process. For example, I spoke in my mother tongue for my first 15 years. The next 6 years I have been speaking in english ( due to a change in location ), so now I started thinking in english.
@rhinoboy (2129)
13 Feb 07
Id does seem to relate directly to fluency and use of the other langueages. Thanks for the response
@gabs8513 (48717)
• United Kingdom
10 Feb 07
Hi there Rhino, I am back. I actually speak German as well as English, it is getting a bit rusty now, lol, as I hardly speak it anymore.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
12 Feb 07
It's surprising how quickly you can 'forget' a language you don't use, but even more surprising how quickly you can pick it back up with a little practice.
@soumodeep (945)
• India
5 Feb 07
I am bilingual. In fact most of the Indians should be bilingual. In India it is compulsory to know Hindi the official language and your own mother tongue. This is so because there are 415 languages in India. That's the reason. So I am basically a trilingual. I know Hindi, Bengali and English. I do speak in my mother tongue first which is Bengali before translating it.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
6 Feb 07
I've found that many european languages are very similar, as they probably have shared origins. Are many of the languages in India similar to one another in this way?
@Dolcerina (3379)
• Hungary
3 Feb 07
Well I am not bilingual, but I always try to think in English. But unfortunatelly my vocabulary is very poor, that is why I can not express myself well, and I have to search for words in the dictionary. (for example now I searched the "vocabulary" If I had translated the hungarian into english I would have said: "wordtreasure" instead of "vocabulary")
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@rhinoboy (2129)
6 Feb 07
The thing I always found difficult with languages is the way sentences are structured. Many things cannot be directly translated. I've seen quite a few funny things where something has been translated using babelfish, then translated back into the original language and said something completely different.
@dioscora (309)
• Philippines
3 Feb 07
For whatever country we came from , its important that we study, know and learn ENGLISH because Eng lish is a Universal Language. It is necessary that we can understand and can speak English Language.
@rhinoboy (2129)
6 Feb 07
I think that's what makes us English people lazy with our languages. It seems that the rest of the world learns to speak english anyway!!
@huanghaozi (1475)
• Egypt
3 Feb 07
When I came to USA, I was speaking English but thinking in Romanian... As time passed, I begun to think more in English. But, for example, I still swear (automatically) in Romanian when I play PC games and stuff doesn't come out the way I want it. :))) It just comes to me like that. Thing is, no matter what language you speak more and what language you think in, you will never forget your mother's tongue.
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@rhinoboy (2129)
6 Feb 07
This made me laugh! I think everyone swears in their first language!
@ricknkae (1726)
• United States
2 Feb 07
I think both in French and English. French is my mothertongue so it is very natural for me to think in french. But now I live in the United States and I think in English as well. Now I even catch myself thinking in English when I speak french ! LOL but only for short expressions or words But I remember when I first arrived, I was still thinking in french and having to concentrate and make an effort all the time to undertstand would tire me and after a month I had like an "English-language-fed-up" ... It was just too exhausting having to concentrate all the time. Because when it is your mothertongue you don't have to do that, your brain undertsands everything naturally, but in another language you have to get used to it. Anyway I think after three months I was no longer having such a hard time with concentrating, and now after a year I watch TV in English just as I was in French, it is no longer an issue ... Hope it will help you ;)
@rhinoboy (2129)
2 Feb 07
It sounds like immersion in a language makes the difference. I have a friend from Taiwan who lives here in England, and they still watch TV with the subtitles on and go to the movies on subtitle night as people often talk too fast for him to keep up.
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• India
12 Feb 07
I speak 5 languages but I think in English.
@pagli84 (1850)
• Netherlands
3 Feb 07
i usually think in english, but ive also also found myself thinking in dari, pashto, or french sometimes which are the other languages i am fluent in. i guess it all depends on what i'd done that day, who i'd been with, where i'd been, and what language i had been speaking throughout the day. i dont think in english first and then translate it before speaking the other languages. it just comes out naturally, so i guess at those times im consciously or sub-consciously thinking in those languages.
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• United States
3 Feb 07
I'm an American, so English is my first language. My dad is the french teacher at my old high school, so naturally, I learned french. When I practiced it enough, i could think in french without having to translate in my head. But like you said, lack of practice kills that technique. My vocabulary nowadays is almost nil.
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• India
3 Feb 07
i think in my mothertongue...hindi..always...n yes i always translate into other languages before speaking
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• Philippines
3 Feb 07
Here in the Philippines, we have so many dialects perhaps more than 80 because every city has its own language but then our national language would have to be Filipino also known as Tagalog. But of course though English is only the 2nd language, it's what we primarily use in the Govt. and its also being taught in school (from nursery till college). SO for me, I do speak, English, tagalog and hiligaynon/ilonngo (my native tongue). But i would also love to learn how to speak other languages like spanish, french and italian. Well maybe someday, ill enroll myself in order for me to be multi-lingual.
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@callarse1 (4793)
• United States
3 Feb 07
I know Spanish very well, I would say I am bilingual at it. I know the basics of Italian. Sometimes it has happened where someone asked me what a word means in Spanish in English. I couldn't think of the English word and I had to explain to them what it means, that has happened in Spanish too, I would be thinking and I cannot think of the English word and only think of the Spanish word! One time, when I was in Spain, I could only think of the Italian phrase and not the Spanish phrases so I had to ask one of my host brothers how to say it in Spanish (because he knew Italian). I normally think in either language English or Spanish, but I usually don't translate unless someone asks me too. When I first began to learn Spanish I would translate between the two languages, but if you think about it, you should really not do that. When you are in another country they speak that language and they don't translate back and forth and when you learn English you don't translate back and forth. Of course, I know people want to know the translations :). Regards, Pablo
• Philippines
3 Feb 07
since here in our country we have differents dialects in some areas though our national language is tagalog. I speak Tagalog, Bisaya, a liitle bit Ilonggo, English and some basics in Nihonggo (Japanese Language).
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@Anakata2007 (1787)
• Canada
3 Feb 07
english only
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• United States
3 Feb 07
I am like you..I am English. My husband is French and I did learn some, but like you..we sort of let it slide. I have asked my husband, though and i know that he thinks in French and then translates it in English. He said that's the only way he can do it...he speaks pretty good English, but his mind still works in French. :)
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@cimbuak (49)
• Malaysia
3 Feb 07
arabic for sure
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