Dopers who speak more than one language...

Native English speaker, with casually acquired bits and pieces of many languages floating around in her head and several years of formal German study. It’s a little rusty now and at my best I was certainly not fluent, but I’ve always been told that I speak German pretty well…for an American, at least. :slight_smile:

Normally I think in English, but within a few months of beginning to study German I found that I could think in German when I wanted to, and sometimes I did so without even trying. My limited vocabulary means that there are some subjects I can’t think too deeply on in German, but if I get myself going I can think about practically anything on a basic level using the words I do know. Sometimes I do this just to amuse myself, or in hopes of preventing my German skills from degenerating too much.

Very rarely I will unexpectedly have a German thought among my normal English ones, usually a thought involving a concept that for reasons of grammar or vocabulary is more easily or elegantly expressed in German than in English.

To answer your first point, there are some subtle differences, in that, to my mind anyway, Urdu is sweeter and more poetic. I can actually tell the difference between Hindi and Urdu.

To answer your second point, there is a huge difference between Gujarati and Kutchhi. Kutchhi sounds a lot sweeter, there are more Urdu influences, and to my mind, at any rate, the structure of Kutchhi is softer, Gujarati seems quite harsh to my ear, whereas Kutchhi is softer.

Does that make sense??

Usually pretty much English (my native language), but depending on who else is around and other environmental factors, or sometimes the subject matter, Spanish and/or Russian can take over. It gets really wacky when I’m speaking in one language about an experience I had in a place where one of the other languages is spoken, or when I’m trying to express a concept, either linguistic or cultural, which exists in one language/environment but not the others. Sometimes the wrong language will pop up in the most inconvenient places…when I was a court interpreter (Spanish-English), sometimes a Russian word would pop up, usually when the person I was interpreting for was some rural Guatemalan who spoke, say, some Mayan dialect rather than Spanish as a native language. Endless confusion would ensue. Luckily, it didn’t happen that often.

I once read that left-handed people think in abstract concepts while right-handed people think more in words. I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but it would tend to explain a lot about my relationship to language (I’m left-handed).

I know Finnish (native language), Swedish and English, with a smattering of German. I usually think in Finnish, but sometimes in English, esp. if thinking about Internet.

Native speaker of English, fluent in French.

I think in English most of the time, but French when I’m in a French environment (conversing in French, reading in French, etc.) I tend to associate all other foreign langauges with French, too – I read Latin with a French accent, I found myself thinking in French more than English when I was in Italy, and pronounce any bizarre language examples* in classes like French rather than English.

I have an awful time with French/English dictionaries – I constantly think I’m in one side when I’m in the other, and struggle to find my word before I realize I’m looking for it in the wrong half…

*Linguistics offers lots of examples from bizarre languages; I’m currently studying Moose Cree, but we routinely get examples from Aztec languages, Aboriginal languages, etc.

I grew up speaking three languages at home.

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. Portuguese

In school I studied French for five years, and I studied in France for one year becoming fluent towards the end.

I tend to think in the language that I’m speaking. I’ve noticed that I think about concepts or things in the language that I learned how to do them in. When I’m really upset I tend to curse in Portuguese since it seems to be a more expressive language for it than English.

I’m surprised so many people on this board speak German…

I speak English (native) and German.

If I am with a group of Germans having a conversation, I think in German. Otherwise, I think in English.

The funny thing about the odd mix of languages I think in (throw some French words now and then) is that I use separate languages for separate aspects of my life. I cannot for the life of me think of sex in Spanish, nor have sex in Spanish… very odd. I can’t swear in Spanish either. I know the words but there’s almost a physical impossibility to utter them.

I am sure it had something to do with studying with nuns for 14 years.

Sometimes when I’m speaking one language (native English speaker, fluent in Spanish), if I hit a word that is stuck in my head in the other language I’ll use it and continue in that language. The word hinge, for example, is one I can never remember in English. If I’m not careful I’ll say bisagra and continue on in Spanish. I don’t know why this is except that hinge is such a crummy sounding word in English.
Otherwise I think in Spanish if I’m using it a lot and English if I haven’t needed to use Spanish for a while.
Another thing. If someone speaks to me with a strong accent - no matter what language, I immediately start to to form my reply in Spanish. My theory on this is that my brain tells me that this person won’t understand me in my primary language so it autoshifts to the backup.
I also talk to animals in Spanish without thinking about it.
Does this stuff happen to anybody else?

I think in English, sometimes I think in Spanish when I’m trying to remember how to say something and occasionally in French when I hear a French-derived word.

I speak Spanish, English and French, but my French is not great. Spanish is my native language, but I find myself thinking in English most of the time, since all day long I am either working (most of my work is in English), watching TV or movies (all of it in English) or on the Internet, where almost everything is in English. I lived in England for a while, but even before that, most of the time I think to myself in English.

Speak and think in both the two languages I’m fluent in (Spanish – mother tongue, language of the society I live in – and English), situationally. I actually consider myself not just bilingual but bicultural.

Can read Portugese.

Used to slog thru very elementary German but it’s been like 18 years since I got any regular exposure to it.

Spanish and English both “official” where I live.

When communicating with my Floridian nephews (ages 6, 7) it’s Uncle speaks Spanish, Nephews reply in English.

I normally think in English, but there were times when I thought and dreamt in fluent German. Most of the time, though, I’ll think in a mixture of the languages. A typical thought would sound like this, with varying ratios of German and English:

Ach, lieber Gott, what a day. As if my life couldn’t get any beschissener, something comes along and makes it worse. Na ja, ins Bett mit mir.

I sound like a stereotypical off-the-boat Opa if I think out loud–and I do think out loud a lot. Despite this, my active fluency has gone down drastically, because my exposure to German has lessened now that I’m in a situation where it’s not feasible to spend a few hours a day listening to German news and reading German newspapers, but I can still read and understand pretty well what I read.

What’s interesting about my thoughts in German is that I make the same pronunciation mistakes, whether I give voice to the thoughts or not. Especially pronouncing really hard words like Szene (which I still pronounce as ‘tseh-nuh’). It probably has something to do with the language centers of my brain and so on, but IANANeurologist.

  1. English (Good ol’ American boy here)
  2. Fluent Brazilian Portuguese
  3. Sufficient Spanish

I find that I think in Portuguese in the home and English at work. Whenever the subject matter goes outside of my vocabulary in Portuguese (such as when discussing technical matters), it’s English all of the way.

My Spanish is not anywhere near as good as my Portuguese. When I’m speaking in Spanish, I feel like I’m clomping about in heavy combat boots. Switching to Portuguese feels like slipping on a pair of well-worn sneakers. Of course, to continue the comparison, English is like walking barefoot on thick shag carpet.

I can’t imagine swearing in any language other than my mother tongue (English) since it just doesn’t have the right punch. Nevertheless, I own a fairly thick dictionary of Brazilian slang that attests to your claim. Quite interesting reading. Clearly, I wouldn’t understand a word if thrust in the center of a group of Brazilian teenagers.

Of course, I doubt that English is so lacking in good curses: A few years in the military teaches one so many interesting colorful expressions that can be shared with others for years to come.
Here’s a thread full of cool phrases (some curses and some not).

Once I became fluent I would think in that language (spanish french). In English I will borrow ‘better’ words from French and Spanish, but never from English, when speaking either of the other two.
When learning French I’d have fits trying not to lapse into Spanish and the anxiety nightmares were all in French. It pains me to think of all the effort I wasted learning decent French just to lose most of it.

Oh yeah; I also have a weird and stilted relationship with French. My French is functional, if not pretty (2 yrs. in high school and a semester intensive in college, which if you’re already fluent in Spanish will allow you to read pretty well and limp along conversationally in most routine situations). I don’t use it much, but the last time I was in France, by the time I went home (after 2 weeks) I was dreaming in French. Oddly enough, the French in my dreams was waaaaay more fluent than any French I ever spoke.


These days I think mostly in English… but every once in a while, it’s back to French I go.

Very occasionally I find myself starting to talk to someone, only to realise I was about to blurt out something in French!
Max :slight_smile:

English (Native)
Spanish (reasonably well, but still translate to English in my head)
German (Can Read and Write; no Conversational abilties.

Originally posted by minorflat7

I agree with you that English can be a rich source of curse words, but to borrow your show analogy, it’s the difference between a comfy pair of sneakers and a warm pair of socks on a cold day. It might also be that as a kid, my first exposure to cursing came from a few well chosen words my father hurled when he accidently hit his finger with a hammer.