Poll: How Do Multi-Lingual People Think?

Victim of Progress

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This is a very interesting topic, because I have been thinking about it a lot.

Russian is my mother tongue, however, as I am in an English-speaking country, I find myself using it more and more. To the point where I stopped thinking in Russian and started thinking in English. I sort of wonder if it will have any long-term consequences to my thinking process.
 

awesomeClaw

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Swedish is my native language, and I know English fluently. I also know some German, though not a lot.

My thinking tends to be divided based on what I'm currently occupying myself with; if I'm watching a movie in English, then I tend to think in English. If it's in Swedish, that's what I think in. If the circumstances are neutral, I tend to think in pure Swedish, often with archaic word. When I speak however, a lot of anglicisms, English words and "swedishified" English words tend to work their way in. Together with some otherwise archaic words, it can sometimes leave my speech somewhat disjointed...
 

sanquin

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Saelune said:
For one, how do you think in regards to your languages? When communicating outside your native language, do you simply think in your own languages than translate it? I expect thats the usual way, but while I have tried learning other languages, I am certainly not bilingual.
I think in English when I write in English. I'm fluent enough in it that I can do so. I'd almost say I can speak it as well as any native speaker, though I do have a few problems with pronunciation here and there. In fact even in daily life I often start thinking in English rather than Dutch because overall I prefer the English language over my native Dutch.

Saelune said:
How similar/different is your native language compared to english? What inspired me to make this topic was reading up on word order. English uses subject - verb - object word order, but the examples of alternate orders was rather mechanical about it, turning "I eat bread" into "bread eat I" when really, it would be better translated to "Bread that is eaten by me".
Grammatically, Dutch is fairly similar to English. Though there are also quite a few differences. It's a bit of a mixed bag. :p Can't really think of examples at the moment, just woke up. ^^;;

Saelune said:
How involved with your various languages are you? I know many places where the native tongue is actually spoken less than english for example, but do you feel you equally use all your languages, do you favor one over the other? Which and why?
In daily life I generally speak Dutch to other people. Though when I'm with friends who also play games we mix it up. Mostly Dutch, but then we want to say something that can be better expressed in English so we do that.

Saelune said:
I probably have a ton of other questions, but feel free to add in -anything- you think I might find interesting.
My native language being Dutch, I sometimes get asked questions about how you say English words or sentences in Dutch. Which I always find quite fun to do. Also, I did have to 'learn' other languages at school. Namely German and French. And I'd like to learn Japanese or Chinese. But I pretty much suck at learning any language except English for some reason. English just came naturally to me. As I speak/write it fluently, but couldn't tell you the first thing about grammatical rules or anything like that.
 

Ninjafire72

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English Japanese here. Born in Japan, moved to Aus as a kid, so native level fluent in both languages. I get asked Op's type of questions a lot, ie. "Which language do you think in?" and I always answer "Depends on which country I'm currently living in".

Most months of the year I live in Aus, so I think and speak in English (like I am right now). But when I visit my family in Japan, I have a small period of 2 ~ 3 days where I think in English but speak Japanese or vice versa. Then in about a week my brain switches gears completely and I think & speak in Japanese.

It's actually a really surreal experience. During that transitional period I become really self-aware of how I'm using 2 languages at once, and it almost feels like I'm switching personalities from 'English me' to 'Japanese me', and once I've made the switch I find it really hard to form sentences in the other language. I think a lot of it comes from your surrounding environment and what language is being used around you.
 

Guffe

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I know 3 languages. Finnish, Swedish and English.
I am from Finland, my dad speaks Finnish, my mothers first language is Swedish, so I have both of those from birth. I speak Swedish with my mom and Finnish with my dad. Then everything gaming-, TV-, computer-related is English. Books I tend to go for English or the native tongue if the author is Swedish or Finnish.

When people ask me how I do this, I generally just answer I have 3 languages I am equally bad at. Learning languages and understanding them (grammar) has never been my strong side, so when I speak I go only based on how I think it sounds best/correct.

I usually think in the language I am speaking, I don't think in Swedish and translate it to either Finnish or English, I think in the language I am speaking. Then the problem I usually have, is that if I speak Finnish with someone, I can't find the word I want to use, then I often know what the word is in the two other languages, and that just drives me crazy.

As for the difference in languages, Swedish and English both belong to the language family (something Germanic-family) while Finnish is very different and belongs to the Finnic-Uralic language family. The Finnc languages are interesting in the way all you basically do is add small add-ons at the end of a word to change the meaning of it, in stead of using words like in/out/above/etc. So you say House, and then Inside the House. In Finnish House is Talo, then Inside the House is Talossa. So you add the -ssa ending on a Substantive to make something be inside that thing.
 

cathou

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Apr 6, 2009
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i'm french/english bilangual, french being my first language. when i think in my head, i think in french, however, i dont have to first think what i'm gonna say in french and then translate it.

that said, it's stay easier to speak and understand french. by that i mean that if i'm not 100% focuys on what i'm listening or reading, i will lost a lot more that if it was french. let say i play a game and have a movie or tv show running in background, i will understand a lot less that if it was in french.

for that reason i prefer to watch tv and movie dubbed in french, because if i'm a bit tired for exemple, i will have to focus way more if it's english
 

Sigmund Av Volsung

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1. I'd like to tell anyone from the get-go that if they try the meme of 'people who speak different languages inherently think differently' that I will throw that useless pop science out the window for nothing inspires more animosity in me than that one Sapir Whorf hypothesis (resurrected by Arrival) that just refuses to goddamn die.

First language is Lithuanian, word order is relatively flexible due to case systems but constituent movement (adverbs, prepositions, nouns, etc.) is limited somewhat (mainly adpositions). Cannonical phrases are SVO however (according to WALS). I learned English at around 7/8 years old and can speak it fluently, and I study Linguistics and Literature at University right now. Also studied French at school for about 5 years and can somewhat understand Russian, but at a very basic level.

And no, language doesn't change the way I think. In social situations, I do act somewhat differently to Lithuanian people, but that's more due to the fact that the only people I spoke Lithuanian with growing up were my parents, so I'm more inclinded to be friendly and also more confrontational, but I'm perfectly capable of being formal. In terms of usage, go figure, I speak English most of the time, and have written essays on the English Language at University, but I always speak Lithuanian when at home. French is fun to use sometimes but I can't speak it as well as I used to when studying full-time.

When I graduate I'd like to acquire comprehensive linguistic grammars of all four of these languages. I would like to learn some dialect of Arabic and Cantonese. Maybe Basque if I wanted to self-harm because that language pisses me off on an academic and theoretical level.
 

Saelune

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Sigmund Av Volsung said:
1. I'd like to tell anyone from the get-go that if they try the meme of 'people who speak different languages inherently think differently' that I will throw that useless pop science out the window for nothing inspires more animosity in me than that one Sapir Whorf hypothesis (resurrected by Arrival) that just refuses to goddamn die.

First language is Lithuanian, word order is relatively flexible due to case systems but constituent movement (adverbs, prepositions, nouns, etc.) is limited somewhat (mainly adpositions). Cannonical phrases are SVO however (according to WALS). I learned English at around 7/8 years old and can speak it fluently, and I study Linguistics and Literature at University right now. Also studied French at school for about 5 years and can somewhat understand Russian, but at a very basic level.

And no, language doesn't change the way I think. In social situations, I do act somewhat differently to Lithuanian people, but that's more due to the fact that the only people I spoke Lithuanian with growing up were my parents, so I'm more inclinded to be friendly and also more confrontational, but I'm perfectly capable of being formal. In terms of usage, go figure, I speak English most of the time, and have written essays on the English Language at University, but I always speak Lithuanian when at home. French is fun to use sometimes but I can't speak it as well as I used to when studying full-time.

When I graduate I'd like to acquire comprehensive linguistic grammars of all four of these languages. I would like to learn some dialect of Arabic and Cantonese. Maybe Basque if I wanted to self-harm because that language pisses me off on an academic and theoretical level.
I more meant linguistically than anything. I only speak one language, though I have tried to learn others, so it is hard to imagine myself naturally thinking in a learned language, but apparently that is not hard at all for fluent people.

I wasnt trying to suggest people who speak different languages automatically "think" differently in some sort of prejudice way.
 

Sigmund Av Volsung

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Saelune said:
Sigmund Av Volsung said:
1. I'd like to tell anyone from the get-go that if they try the meme of 'people who speak different languages inherently think differently' that I will throw that useless pop science out the window for nothing inspires more animosity in me than that one Sapir Whorf hypothesis (resurrected by Arrival) that just refuses to goddamn die.

First language is Lithuanian, word order is relatively flexible due to case systems but constituent movement (adverbs, prepositions, nouns, etc.) is limited somewhat (mainly adpositions). Cannonical phrases are SVO however (according to WALS). I learned English at around 7/8 years old and can speak it fluently, and I study Linguistics and Literature at University right now. Also studied French at school for about 5 years and can somewhat understand Russian, but at a very basic level.

And no, language doesn't change the way I think. In social situations, I do act somewhat differently to Lithuanian people, but that's more due to the fact that the only people I spoke Lithuanian with growing up were my parents, so I'm more inclinded to be friendly and also more confrontational, but I'm perfectly capable of being formal. In terms of usage, go figure, I speak English most of the time, and have written essays on the English Language at University, but I always speak Lithuanian when at home. French is fun to use sometimes but I can't speak it as well as I used to when studying full-time.

When I graduate I'd like to acquire comprehensive linguistic grammars of all four of these languages. I would like to learn some dialect of Arabic and Cantonese. Maybe Basque if I wanted to self-harm because that language pisses me off on an academic and theoretical level.
I more meant linguistically than anything. I only speak one language, though I have tried to learn others, so it is hard to imagine myself naturally thinking in a learned language, but apparently that is not hard at all for fluent people.

I wasnt trying to suggest people who speak different languages automatically "think" differently in some sort of prejudice way.
Too late.

I have an animalistic rage procced by people suggesting that, and discussions about language always tend to have that crop up. Same with 'I prefer this language because it seems x'.

Studying linguistics does that to you.
 

Saelune

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Sigmund Av Volsung said:
Saelune said:
I more meant linguistically than anything. I only speak one language, though I have tried to learn others, so it is hard to imagine myself naturally thinking in a learned language, but apparently that is not hard at all for fluent people.

I wasnt trying to suggest people who speak different languages automatically "think" differently in some sort of prejudice way.
Too late.

I have an animalistic rage procced by people suggesting that, and discussions about language always tend to have that crop up. Same with 'I prefer this language because it seems x'.

Studying linguistics does that to you.
I havent seen any of that. And honestly, I am surprised that everyone seems to understand what I was asking for, since when I made the topic I worried it was too confusing.

I just wanted to better understand multi-lingual people since I find language super interesting and hope to one day actually learn another language and always respect anyone who can.
 

Sigmund Av Volsung

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Saelune said:
Sigmund Av Volsung said:
Saelune said:
I more meant linguistically than anything. I only speak one language, though I have tried to learn others, so it is hard to imagine myself naturally thinking in a learned language, but apparently that is not hard at all for fluent people.

I wasnt trying to suggest people who speak different languages automatically "think" differently in some sort of prejudice way.
Too late.

I have an animalistic rage procced by people suggesting that, and discussions about language always tend to have that crop up. Same with 'I prefer this language because it seems x'.

Studying linguistics does that to you.
I havent seen any of that. And honestly, I am surprised that everyone seems to understand what I was asking for, since when I made the topic I worried it was too confusing.

I just wanted to better understand multi-lingual people since I find language super interesting and hope to one day actually learn another language and always respect anyone who can.
Bilingualism in children actually has profound effects, as well as the ability to interface the grammars between two different languages. It doesn't make someone 'better' but it can be useful later in life, but as with all such predispositions, what matters the most is the application thereof. If you want reccomendations, romance languages are fairly intuitive for English speakers and can open the doorway to further education - learning French makes learning Spanish easier, as well as Italian and if you can speak at least two of the above reasonably well, congratulations, you can understand Latin.
 

Jute88

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I'm bilingual (Finnish and English). I also know a bit of Swedish, German, Japanese and a Finnish Sign Language. Best way to learn a language is that you actually use it on your daily life, atleast for me. Which is why my Swedish sucks, because I didn't have any use for it outside school.

Good luck learning a new language! Do you have any specific one in mind? Spanish would probably be the most practical choice for you.
 

Chimpzy_v1legacy

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I live in Belgium and speak fluent Dutch, English and French. Switching on the fly between any of them is no problem at all. I also think in whatever language I'm speaking at the time. I can handle myself in German, but at a lower level.

None of them are actually my native language tho. That would be Albanian, but my parents and I moved when I was very young. They pushed me to learn Dutch, stopped talking Albanian to me at home, and lack of other native speakers meant my proficiency dropped to the point where I can now barely understand it anymore.
 

ScorpionPrince

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Dutch is my native language, and i remember playing zelda: Link's awakening DX when I was 10 years old. I couldn't read the english language yet, but I really liked the game, so I was very motivated to learn what the story was. Luckily, my brain is good at language. When speaking (or typing) english, I don't really need to translate anymore. Sometimes, I even know a word in english, but struggle to find the word in dutch.

As for other languages, I can understand quite a bit of german, but I can't create sentences easily. This leads to conversations with germans where they speak in german, and I speak in dutch, and we can still kinda understand each other.

When on holiday abroad, I like to learn a few phrases, and try to get as far as I can in that language(before falling back to english). It's a fun challenge!
 

gxs

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Saelune said:
For one, how do you think in regards to your languages? When communicating outside your native language, do you simply think in your own languages than translate it? I expect thats the usual way, but while I have tried learning other languages, I am certainly not bilingual.
I speak quite a few languages (3) and understand and can read one more but I can't speak it (without butchering it).

I think in the language I use at the time. Translating in the head is really hard and confusing as it takes more time to think of an answer and how to translate it. It's just simple to switch your thought process to the language you're using at the moment and speak/write in that language.
 

Dreiko_v1legacy

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Sigmund Av Volsung said:
Saelune said:
Sigmund Av Volsung said:
1. I'd like to tell anyone from the get-go that if they try the meme of 'people who speak different languages inherently think differently' that I will throw that useless pop science out the window for nothing inspires more animosity in me than that one Sapir Whorf hypothesis (resurrected by Arrival) that just refuses to goddamn die.

First language is Lithuanian, word order is relatively flexible due to case systems but constituent movement (adverbs, prepositions, nouns, etc.) is limited somewhat (mainly adpositions). Cannonical phrases are SVO however (according to WALS). I learned English at around 7/8 years old and can speak it fluently, and I study Linguistics and Literature at University right now. Also studied French at school for about 5 years and can somewhat understand Russian, but at a very basic level.

And no, language doesn't change the way I think. In social situations, I do act somewhat differently to Lithuanian people, but that's more due to the fact that the only people I spoke Lithuanian with growing up were my parents, so I'm more inclinded to be friendly and also more confrontational, but I'm perfectly capable of being formal. In terms of usage, go figure, I speak English most of the time, and have written essays on the English Language at University, but I always speak Lithuanian when at home. French is fun to use sometimes but I can't speak it as well as I used to when studying full-time.

When I graduate I'd like to acquire comprehensive linguistic grammars of all four of these languages. I would like to learn some dialect of Arabic and Cantonese. Maybe Basque if I wanted to self-harm because that language pisses me off on an academic and theoretical level.
I more meant linguistically than anything. I only speak one language, though I have tried to learn others, so it is hard to imagine myself naturally thinking in a learned language, but apparently that is not hard at all for fluent people.

I wasnt trying to suggest people who speak different languages automatically "think" differently in some sort of prejudice way.
Too late.

I have an animalistic rage procced by people suggesting that, and discussions about language always tend to have that crop up. Same with 'I prefer this language because it seems x'.

Studying linguistics does that to you.

See, language is a tool, and sometimes, some languages have specific words for concepts that others do not or make you think in unique ways. I think in ways that allow me to use the right tool for the job and oftentimes I find I shift into languages which have the best tools for my expression when conversing with other multilingual folks due to this reason.

For example, in Greek we have the tone system. Tones are little short lines you put over letters to emphasize which syllable is the one you pronounce loudly in a given word. So like, orAnge vs Orange, the capitalization symbolizes which letter has the tone on it that you're supposed to emphasize. Now, in Greek there's quite a few words which are spelled exactly the same, but just have the tone in a different spot, which entirely changes the meaning...and this makes the language a pun-rich environment for developing minds! So now I have a taste for horrible puns that annoy everyone, due to them just working really well in Greek due to how Greek works.


In a more serious side of this point, a lot of Japanese concepts are untranslatable in English (or sound really awkward if you try to translate them), so it's not that Japanese is "better" than English but rather that Japanese is the best at expressing Japanese concepts, as is every language at expressing the concepts that the culture that spawned it created, and the value we place on the unique elements of a certain culture inadvertently shines on the language we need to use to decipher them. This can be confused as the language itself having that value, which I can understand is frustrating, but usually people don't really intend to imply such a thing and just kinda speak without thinking it through.
 

sageoftruth

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I read an article in the Economist about a Nigeria and how they've combined their languages with English/Pidgin, switching back and forth based on whichever language is better for expressing what they want to say. After all, most languages have limitations of some sort. Something that takes a whole awkward sentence in one language can be expressed in a single word using the other language. The difference here is that they actually use both interchangeably when speaking as well, not just thinking.

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if that's how bilingual people think. Like bisexuals, many of them probably have a preference for one over the other. Therefore, they will stick with that as a default while using the other whenever the situation calls for it.

All this is pure speculation, but the Economist article left me feeling a bit inspired.
 

CaitSeith

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Spanish, English and French. I first think on the idea or concept I want to communicate, and try to think on it in the language I need to use. If I can't remember an appropriate expression for such language, then I use my native language and translate it in my head. The more expressions I can remember, the less I need to translate.
 

Strazdas

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My native language is lithuania, i also obviuosly speak english, and i know a bit of german and russian, but i wouldnt call it being able to speak that language. Therefore, voted in being bilingual.

When communicating in english i always think in english. In fact it is sometimes hard to translate that to native language because the whole thought process happens in the foreign language. I am able to easily switch between the two (for example while speaking to two different people) which i hear is rare, but translating for somone is hard. Understanding the meaning of foreign language is easier than converting it back and forth.

In lithuania I Eat Bread would be "Valgau duoną". The first word is eat with the ending being picked to describe a self-action, while the second one is bread with the ending picked to denote correct implication. Im not sure how to properly explain that in english, but basically we have 7 endings based on implication, in this case the bread answers to question "What" so it has this ending, if say i was answering the question "what is it" then it would be "duona", and so on. From what i understand lithuanian is one of the hardest languages around, which sucks.

Word order is more lax in lithuanian because words themselves change based on what you are implying, and with english that is determined on word order instead. For example doing it backwards "Duoną valgau" is a properly valid answer, but your example of "Bread eat i" would not be.

Personally, in part due to nature of my work, and mostly due to my hobbies all being in english (and i dont like localizations) i actually use english far more than my native language.