I've *finally* realized how to explain it!

I don’t think in words. I always hear people talking about thinking in words (see recent thread about multilingual thinking) and it made me realize that I didn’t think in words. But people never got it or even believed me when I said so… so I gave up trying to convince people, because I didn’t know how to explain it.

Everyone knows what `[random word]’ is. The word describes the concept perfectly, and any attempt to explain it with other words just doesn’t work.

In German, we were discussing thinking in German, or hearing the German word, then thinking of the English equivilent, and …knowing that. (go ahead, reread the sentence. I know it doesn’t make much sense.)

I thought… How inefficient. It’s so much better to connect the German word to the concept it represents directly. Then I realized what I do: my mind uses the concepts without messing with the words! Or something. I, uh… don’t know how to explain it. (Or, “I think in concepts.”)

Well, yeah. i’m kind of rambling, but I want to get a dialog going. Anybody out there who thinks like i do?

Most people probably do, right up until they communicate. Then the translation to words occurs. Since communication is such a big part of life, it seems that thinkning is done in words, rather than in concepts. I’m sure there’ll be a psychologist along any minute now to settle this.

I understand what you mean, but I haven’t really met anyone who thinks ‘that way’ before. I’m the opposite…I think in English so directly that it inhibits my ability to learn other languages. Whether they be lingual or not. (computer languages spring to mind)

I can’t relate personally, but I worked with a Greek guy who was a post doc in my lab. English was not his first language, but he explained to me that his biggest breakthough was being able to think in English; he no longer needed to translate English into Greek to understand it. He said (after years in the US) he can now read and understand English words and sentences and concepts presented in English without trying to “translate” them back into his native language.

Since I have no foreign language ability, I thought it impressive that a guy can think and grasp concepts in a second language. I’ve seen foreign students who can’t.

President Clinton’s definition of the word “is” didn’t even fly with this non-native English speaker. This guy said “I understand what ‘is’ means, and that guy is full of BS.”

Of course this guy earned a Ph.D. at a US university and he actually has mastery (or at least fluentcy of English (unlike some foreign students). So, he might be smarter than most foreigners.

I’m getting to the point in Spanish where I can watch our favorite Brazilian, Portuguse-to-Spanish-dubbed “soap opera” (don’t worry, it’s not like an icky American soap) without having to translate into English. It’s neat just being able to listen and understand without any translating (new-to-me words excluded, of course).

With my wife and my family, I need to do most of the translating. Things my wife says to me are perfectly comprehensible, and I know exactly what she means without translating into English – actually, that’s the problem sometimes! I do understand perfectly what she means, but I’m unable to re-explain it in English! Professional translators must REALLY have their work cut out for them.

I have no idea what language I dream in anymore, seriously. Since picking up the Spanish, I have no recollection of the language used.

I’ve also found that my once fluent grasp of German escapes me at the moment I need it. Reading isn’t really a problem, but any time I try to speak in German (especially numbers), it all comes out in Spanish. And, hehe, sometimes in German word order.

I think people just think in feelings and ideas, very rarely do we think in words, just when we are trying to state something or when we are preparing to say something.

Whoa! Crap! wrong forum! Mods?

If I remember my freshman psych book correctly, the general population is split about 50/50 - half of us think (most of the time), the other half think in concepts (most of the time).


If I remember my freshman psych book correctly, the general population is split about 50/50 - half of us think IN WORDS (most of the time), the other half think in concepts (most of the time).


I have–ever–reached complex conclusions in concepts and got very excited about the implications of something that I couldn’t put into intelligible words for at least a year.

Usually, I think in…oh, it isn’t literally visual and they aren’t really shapes, and it includes motion (representing processes or action?), but “pictures” is a decent approximation. And then I put them into words in order to hold onto them and build on them, usually very quickly while I’m still excited about the “picture”. To have something so massive and so detailed drop pretty much fully formed into my head–to be understanding something on such a scale without it having been built up as tiers and layers and terraces of concepts that had been verbalized a bit at a time–that was unique in my life.

Heck, that was 21 years ago and I’m STILL working out ways of expressing the details!

Okay, then. Off to IMHO.

moderator GQ

I was unaware of that. I always assumed that everybody thought in the same way. Would somebody have a link to some site where I could find more infos about that?

Heyyy…you know? I’ve thought about this sort of thing quite a bit! Nice to see I’m not all alone…

For the record, I had a native-German foreign exchange student my junior year of HS. In Spanish class we got to discussing structure and whatnot and when questioned, she said that she was thinking en Ingles. (of course we were all English-speaking hicks from Appalachia, but I digress)

First of all–AHunter3–beautifully worded…wish I coulda said that.

Secondly, Lixit…how would one go about describing how they think? I personally think that I’m a concept-thinker.
However, my b/f (very smart fellow, you know…clever, funny, savvy, fix/make anything) always seems to come off as about 3" deep. Can’t get into any real, fun, meaningful discussions with him. He’s an enigma. I thought maybe the ‘thinking-in-words’ thing may have something to do with it.
Maybe he’s just logical, or so computer-oriented.

Or maybe it’s just time for bed.

I think in words and images mostly, but when I use Spanish I don’t think in English except when I try to say something I don’t know the Spanish for (which is pretty frequently, I’m hardly fluent). Also, since taking Spanish in middle and high school there are certain objects that my mind uses the Spanish word for when I’m thinking about them (like borradors) and I often count in Spanish in my head. It’s kinda weird now that I think about it.

I learned German in high school. Poorly. Got the verb forms, some basic vocab, and definite articles down, then graduated. A couple of years later I ended up south of Miami, FL. The barracks in which I lived were about 100 feet away from the Inter-American Air Force Academy, I worked with Spanish linguists and Cubans, and I picked up Spanish fairly easily - although those basic things, like verb forms and articles, weren’t very well learned.

From there, I transferred around a bit - DC and ME and HI. Four years after I stopped speaking Spanish I took a year of French. Oy vey. And now, my French is about three years behind me.

A month ago I was in Morocco. My host and I had a good chuckle over how I tried to ask a vendor for cigarettes in English, French, and Spanish (all at the same time :eek: ) while using Moroccan dirhans to pay for my vice.

Heh. This isn’t adding to the OP at all, is it. The point I’m trying to make - the concept is there in my head; it’s always the execution I have problems with.

My husband and I had an 18 hour long discussion about this while on a road trip once. We referred to them as “mind blips”… little chunks that contained a concept, that the brain then processed into words when neccessary. The conversation was very involved and was quite fascinating, but not something I want to get into at 2:41am.

Btw, do you sometimes see ideas as images? I see my ‘mind blips’ sometimes as a sort of image… like a yellow oval to the left of me, with a texture at the top and blue at the bottom… or something like that. Totally nonsensical, but I can “see” it in my mind an instant before a thought materializes into words.

Someone has to inform Spiny Norman of this thread. He’s a Dane working in Germany using German, and dating an American woman in English.

I was just talking to him about 3 weeks ago about almost this very subject at the L.A. Dopetoberfest. He says that now he’s so multilingual that sometimes he unconciously responds in a different language than used to address him.

I’m a very visual person, and I also love language. I’m not proficient in any other than English, but I love learning languages. I need to just give up & take some classes. Anyway, some concepts can only be expressed in one language, or are subtly different from language to language, so it just makes sense that you would “think” in whatever language it is you’re speaking.

I agree that we must think in concepts first, and I know that I often think in “pictures.” I’m usually only aware of thinking when I’m thinking “out loud,” though. Does that make sense? I think in conversations to myself all the time, but I also think in forms & concepts, which is a type of thinking I’m barely conscious of.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Helen Keller was able to write letters. How did she learn language without ever hearing it? How did she conceive of written words without ever seeing them? However, she was able to correspond as well as any intelligent & well-educated person, and was even able to convey emotion and creativity using these words that she had never heard or seen. Amazing!


Hmm, I guess not everyone in the world read Helen Keller’s Teacher when they were in Elementary School?

Annie Sullivan taught her language by spelling into her hand (using some variant of the deaf person’s manual alphabet) while putting the object she was spelling into her other hand until she made the connection between thing and representation. Sullivan had read about this being accomplished once before, and replicated the accomplishment with Keller. The first word she “got” was the word “water”.

Once she had enough of a vocabulary, Sullivan taught her to read braille as well.

Mandelbrott thought in shapes.