Poll: How Do Multi-Lingual People Think?

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Queen of the Edit
Feb 4, 2009
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Filo mum, never really learned tagalog. English background speaking through and through. But I tend to be an aural learner, and I picked up basic Japanese by living there for a bit and researching in my spare time. The problem is I'd pick up words in different places, and from different people, so not only did I get it wrong every couple of sentences but I'd mix up words, gendered language, and dialects. Reading in another language is way too fucking hard, but spoken I seem to have a pretty good gift of emulation.

I tend to be pretty social when I have an opportunity, and I have a pretty good eye for environmental context and body language. Tagalog continues to confound me, because tagalog isn't just tagalog but expertly weaves a combination of other languages if it saves time.

Most of the time, I don't really give a shit and I'd keep talking. Because confidence. OPf course inevitably I probably looked like a massive tit to the natives. But I suppose it's better to look like a massive tit compared to a nervous tit. And hey, deep down everybody knows you can't get decent at a language without direct practice and being afraid of making the occasional mistake. So I imagine to other people I sounded precisely like a gaijin who thinks they can speak Japanese, and doesn't even know where they are or where they're going. Which pretty much describes me as per usual, so I can't complain.

Usually I'd tutor, practice afterwards, research on my own, go out, drink, and if people could still understand me by the end of the night, I considered that a win. Rinse and repeat for the 4 months I was there.

I was thinking of doing the same in Germany. I've always wanted to learn German, mainly because every German tourist I run into seems to be the most affable person on Earth. So I might take 6 months off to do that. Extended sabbatical.
 

Ogoid

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Nov 5, 2009
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3 here as well, English and French in addition to my native Portuguese. I can also understand Spanish [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_intelligibility], even though I wouldn't say the mangled Portunhol I can manage if necessary counts as actually speaking it. I studied Japanese as well, years ago, and still remember some of it, but at a very basic level.

Mostly, I just think in whichever language I'm using at any given moment.
 

Neonsilver

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Aug 11, 2009
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My native language is german, I learned english and french at school and I'm currently learning japanese.
I'm fluent in english and to me there isn't much difference between using german and english (once read something and didn't even realize that was in english). Usually I'm thinking in german or english depending on what language I'm using and I don't think how to translate a phrase from german to english or from english to german. The exception is when I don't remember how to say something in a different language, I remember how to say it in one language but not in another (that actually happens in german and in english to me).
English and german have common roots, as a result the grammar is very similar.

I haven't used french in a long time, so I would have to first think of what I want to say and then try to translate it. It's similar in japanese, but when reading something in japanese I actually don't think much about what it would mean in german, unless there are a lot of words that I don't know yet. It's hard to translate something to or from japanese since the word order is very different.
 

SoliterDan

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Jun 27, 2017
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I just....speak? DK, hard to describe it. It has it's fair share of problems, but I can't complain.
 

Creator002

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Aug 30, 2010
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Native English speaker, learning German, but have proficiency.
I try my best not to think in English. Usually practice at the supermarket thinking about what to buy, but I'm not fluent so it can be hard. If it's words I've used a lot, it's not too hard. Just comes to me.
 

Dreiko_v1legacy

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Aug 28, 2008
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Native Greek speaker here, fluent in English and advanced in Japanese. (getting better every day hehe)


I think in a mixture of all 3 languages, with the ratio of the mixture fluctuating based on the activity I'm engaged in. I've been living in the US for over a decade now and the ratio has shifted from its original Greek majority to a more even spread since I don't use Greek quite as much as I used to whereas the other two languages have jumped up. I do still count in Greek though, it feels way more natural to do so, I dunno why, also I contemplate the days of the week in Greek as well. When speaking with my Greek side of the family, I always use Greek, it feels awkward to suddenly speak to them in English (and they don't know japanese lol), which I have to do when non-Greek-speakers are present.


Where I grew up, everyone takes English classes, but it's more of a joke class that isn't granted weight, so most people are pretty terrible at English despite studying it both at cram schools and in public schools since the 4th grade, but my interest in games and anime and so on as well as parental influence (mom's american) enabled me to actually be comfortable enough with English to be able to watch anime in Japanese with English subtitles ever since I was 14 and not miss anything.

As for Japanese, I started studying it when I was 16 with a personal tutor while I still was in Greece and then took classes in college after moving to the US, while also working on it by myself between those times and after. It's so different from both other languages in all aspects but the pronunciation is phonetic which is the exact same in Greek so I had little issue with it. The rest of it was just language immersion and studying. Atm I'm just working on vocab and more kanji slowly as I go along, I'm very comfortable with it but there do come some cases where technical or scientific terms evade me. I'm in that place where if something is voice-acted I understand 95% of what is being said but if it has a lot of writing I may need to look up a kanji here and there. Also, I avoid translating things in the other languages, cause Japanese is full of untranslatable stuff, so I grasp the meaning of it without trying to think of it in another language, which is something that took a while until I was able to do. I don't even know when it happened, I just stopped trying to think of it in the other language cause it just "had meaning" in Japanese.

Finally, when I play a game that's localized, I sometimes try to guess what the original Japanese line was based on the localization, since a lot of times they change things too much. Checking the Jp version of a scene after guessing and finding out if I guessed right is a lot of fun!
 

Bob_McMillan

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May 11, 2020
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I think in English. I'm barely bilingual, and that's incredibly shameful since English is not my native language.

When I read things in my native language, it is possible that I understand it right away yet I can't actually translate it into English. Other times I translate it to English word for word and I don't get it.
 

Pseudonym

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Nov 4, 2020
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I speak two languages. Dutch is my first language, and I speak English as well. Reading, writing and listening is easy. Speaking English sometimes still goes a bit awkwardly. I just can't speak English as fast, fluently or eloquently as Dutch. I have a very basic understanding of very simple German and Latin but it hardly amounts to anything useful. I can occasionally understand simple sentences or parts thereof, and that's about it. In the case of German, whatever I do understand is more to do with the similarity of German to Dutch than anything else.

Learning English sort of happened by watching TV and playing videogames. Dutch dubs ussually don't exist (we have subs) and sometimes translations can be so bad, English is simply preferable. (seriously, some gaming companies seem to just use google translate and call it a day) I did follow classes in it but I think I learned very little from them. The teacher wasn't as good at English as half the class already was and I never really learned the other languages I was thaught. I never really learned to speak languages by actively trying to learn them. Latin class was useful because it gave a very thourough explanation of grammar and ways to read, but to my great annoyance I just failed to build up a vocabulary beyond a tiny amount of words.

I ussually think in Dutch, except when speaking, writing, reading or listening English, then it becomes either English or a weird half/half mix. I do find it very easy to switch between the two, sometimes in mid-thought.

At this point I use both English and Dutch daily. The newspaper is Dutch. Most of my internet usage is English. People I meet or speak to is normally in Dutch. Study material is a bit of Dutch but mostly English. My new master will be entirely in English.
 

hermes

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Mar 2, 2009
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At the beginning, it is very common to translate in your mind before speaking (I am doing it right now), but after some time I started thinking in English and even began dreaming in English. That is a breakthrough moment, as I felt I became more fluent back then. Once you are in the "right mindset", you can switch pretty much at will...

Still takes me a few seconds to fluently switch from one language to another, and I admire the people that seem to be able to do it on the fly.
 

stroopwafel

Elite Member
Apr 29, 2020
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Dreiko said:
Finally, when I play a game that's localized, I sometimes try to guess what the original Japanese line was based on the localization, since a lot of times they change things too much. Checking the Jp version of a scene after guessing and finding out if I guessed right is a lot of fun!
I'm always deeply impressed when a non-native speaker can descipher those Japanese moon runes. Hats off! How long did it take you to understand the basics if I may ask? I took a peek at some of those online tutorials but it looks really difficult.
 

Ugicywapih

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May 15, 2014
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My native language is Polish and English is the only other language I speak with any real degree of competency. Given that Polish is a Slavic language, the grammar is quite different and the words don't share common roots, with some obvious exceptions - mostly I'm thinking of terms that have become loanwords in multiple languages, like "radio". Granted, compared to say, most Finno-Ugric languages (at least from my perspective), Polish is not overly complex and while it's not quite as simple as English, which seems to owe much of its popularity to how easy it is to learn and use, the two could still be far further apart. Also, they share a common alphabet, with some minor differences.

I guess I mostly think in Polish, but I do notice myself thinking in English quite often, especially if I imagine myself speaking a foreign language, even if said language is not English. I certainly don't need to formulate my thoughts in Polish before translating them into English, I just form sentences in English and that's that. Curiously, I sometimes end up in a situation where I start a sentence that I hadn't planned out in advance in its entirety and realize the language I'm using does not have an appropriate, accurate word to express what I mean while I'm painfully aware of an obvious matching word in the other language I know.
 

Saelune

Trump put kids in cages!
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Apr 4, 2020
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stroopwafel said:
Dreiko said:
Finally, when I play a game that's localized, I sometimes try to guess what the original Japanese line was based on the localization, since a lot of times they change things too much. Checking the Jp version of a scene after guessing and finding out if I guessed right is a lot of fun!
I'm always deeply impressed when a non-native speaker can descipher those Japanese moon runes. Hats off! How long did it take you to understand the basics if I may ask? I took a peek at some of those online tutorials but it looks really difficult.
Hiragana and Katakana are easy. Its Kanji that is hard, but even native Japanese are known to have trouble with it.
 

Dreiko_v1legacy

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Aug 28, 2008
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stroopwafel said:
Dreiko said:
Finally, when I play a game that's localized, I sometimes try to guess what the original Japanese line was based on the localization, since a lot of times they change things too much. Checking the Jp version of a scene after guessing and finding out if I guessed right is a lot of fun!
I'm always deeply impressed when a non-native speaker can descipher those Japanese moon runes. Hats off! How long did it take you to understand the basics if I may ask? I took a peek at some of those online tutorials but it looks really difficult.

Not sure what you define as "basics" but I had the regular alphabets down in 2 weeks of 2.5 hours of repeated writing a day and two 3-hour tutoring sessions per week (filled like two entire notebooks with it) and then basic grammar in like...2 months or something? Though you have to kinda take into account all the language immersion I did throughout that time on my free time as a means of entertainment which is very hard to quantify so I'm not sure if I'm answering your question accurately (or if I even can give you a precise answer hehe).


I'm the kind of learner where if I like something I become fully immersed in it and live and breath it so if you do that with a language you learn it on an intuitive level more so than as a skill. I'm not good about remembering rules and spelling for one, and my handwriting is ugly as sin due to mild dyslexia, but Japanese ideograms don't have spelling, they have stroke-order, and that works with my brain on an intuitive level way better than western spelling (which uses various different letters for the same sound that change arbitrarily) ever did.

Ideograms have intrinsic meaning you see so when I ask "why is this letter not the right one?" the answer is "this kami is the letter for god, the kami you need is the letter for hair" and you can see a visual clue of that fact in the letter itself, whereas in the other languages the answer is "that's just how it is cause of the way language evolved arbitrarily, fuck you" which clashes with my intuitive learner style and becomes a meaningless task at memorization which bores me into failing at it.
 

Ironman126

Dark DM Overlord
Apr 7, 2010
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stroopwafel said:
Yeah, I think English is great b/c it's very flexible. My native language is Dutch. Probably a language that is impossible to pronounce when you're a native English speaker. :p
I kinda figured it was Dutch. I think it's the double "o" in your username. Supposedly, Dutch is the easiest language for English speakers to learn, but those v/g/h words always throw me for a loop.

Anyway, I can see what you mean about flexibility. Dutch and English are pretty similar, along with German, but being monolingual, I've never had the opportunity to compare the actual usages of other languages in context.

Well, you've convinced me. I need to finish learning German then move on to Dutch!
 

Major_Tom

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Jun 29, 2008
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I'm truly fluent in only two, my native Croatian[footnote]I could add Serbian, Bosnian and apparently even Montenegrin into the mix but that would be cheating since they are basically the same language, the Serbo-Croatian. Just don't tell that to the nationalists, they'll throw a hissy fit.[/footnote] and English. I studied some French (DELF A2) and Hungarian back in high school but that faded away a bit. I also self-studied some Russian enough to have a simple conversation, buy some matches or sing the whole Katyusha by heart.

Anyway, I do sometimes think in English, for example, while writing this. I also prefer the ICT stuff in English because back in the '90s when I started to learn about computers everything was in English and there were absolutely no translations. They only started doing that recently and frankly, it's pissing me off. I can barely find my way around Croatian Windows, let alone anything more complex.

When I read books, I read them in either the original language (if I understand it) or translated directly into Croatian. Unfortunately, many Croatian editions are translated from English or German translations, so in that case I prefer the direct English translation since it's closer to the original.
 

lacktheknack

Je suis joined jewels.
Jan 19, 2009
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I know a couple with kids - Mom only speaks to her kids in English, Dad only speaks in Swiss German.

Near as I can tell, those kids think in a terrifying mishmash with self-developed grammar.
 

stroopwafel

Elite Member
Apr 29, 2020
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Dreiko said:
stroopwafel said:
Dreiko said:
Finally, when I play a game that's localized, I sometimes try to guess what the original Japanese line was based on the localization, since a lot of times they change things too much. Checking the Jp version of a scene after guessing and finding out if I guessed right is a lot of fun!
I'm always deeply impressed when a non-native speaker can descipher those Japanese moon runes. Hats off! How long did it take you to understand the basics if I may ask? I took a peek at some of those online tutorials but it looks really difficult.

Not sure what you define as "basics" but I had the regular alphabets down in 2 weeks of 2.5 hours of repeated writing a day and two 3-hour tutoring sessions per week (filled like two entire notebooks with it) and then basic grammar in like...2 months or something? Though you have to kinda take into account all the language immersion I did throughout that time on my free time as a means of entertainment which is very hard to quantify so I'm not sure if I'm answering your question accurately (or if I even can give you a precise answer hehe).


I'm the kind of learner where if I like something I become fully immersed in it and live and breath it so if you do that with a language you learn it on an intuitive level more so than as a skill. I'm not good about remembering rules and spelling for one, and my handwriting is ugly as sin due to mild dyslexia, but Japanese ideograms don't have spelling, they have stroke-order, and that works with my brain on an intuitive level way better than western spelling (which uses various different letters for the same sound that change arbitrarily) ever did.

Ideograms have intrinsic meaning you see so when I ask "why is this letter not the right one?" the answer is "this kami is the letter for god, the kami you need is the letter for hair" and you can see a visual clue of that fact in the letter itself, whereas in the other languages the answer is "that's just how it is cause of the way language evolved arbitrarily, fuck you" which clashes with my intuitive learner style and becomes a meaningless task at memorization which bores me into failing at it.
That's a good explanation, thanks for posting! I'm very much an intuitive learner myself as well. For example I have a fairly easy time learning languages, history, social science etc. but have a hard time learning math. I really need to visualize or intuitively understand something, and that's a hard thing to do with numbers. Learning Japanese is something I always wanted to do though so I think I'll probably give it a try.

Ironman126 said:
stroopwafel said:
Yeah, I think English is great b/c it's very flexible. My native language is Dutch. Probably a language that is impossible to pronounce when you're a native English speaker. :p
I kinda figured it was Dutch. I think it's the double "o" in your username. Supposedly, Dutch is the easiest language for English speakers to learn, but those v/g/h words always throw me for a loop.

Anyway, I can see what you mean about flexibility. Dutch and English are pretty similar, along with German, but being monolingual, I've never had the opportunity to compare the actual usages of other languages in context.

Well, you've convinced me. I need to finish learning German then move on to Dutch!
Good luck! You're right, stroopwafel is a distinct Dutch caramel waffle. Me favorite. :p
 

CellShaded

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Aug 8, 2009
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Native German here, though I learned it and Polish at the same time. I moved to Canada as a kid where I was surrounded by English, and obviously had to learn it quickly. Since then, I consider it my native language and think primarily in English.

I also took courses in French, Spanish, and Chinese. I definitely wouldn't consider myself very fluent in them, though. Maybe one day.
 

Amaror

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Apr 15, 2011
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I think in english when speaking/communicating in english and german pretty much most other times. I think that comes mostly from learning comprehension. You start out by formulating your speech in a language you know and then translate but when you are comfortable enough with a language you can just directly formulate what you want to say in that language and think in it as well.
If you want to learn other languages the best way I found is to just jump into the water and consume some entertainment in that language. Preferably books but tv-series and movies are allright as well.
I used to be terrible in english with pretty bad notes in school. One big, fat Harry Potter book later, because I couldn't wait for the year it usually took to translate them, and I was able to read and comprehend english no problem.
 

bauke67

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Apr 8, 2011
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I know three languages fluently, being English, Dutch and Frisian. I know bits of German, French and Greek and Latin, but not very much. In any case the former three are the only ones in which I think and speak and I can go from one to the other without noticing it. In fact very often I sort of wake up from a stream of thought and I think "I have no idea what language I was thinking in just now" That thought usually but not always comes in Frisian, the first language I learned.

I think this is pretty common for other people who are fluent in more than one language(and use them all often) right?