Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You don't think

in English.

I speak plenty of languages with varying degrees of fluency. I'm sometimes asked what language I think in. A ridiculous question. For the first few years of my life, I only spoke Bengali. But I don't think in Bengali. I don't think in English either. And, whoever you are, neither do you!

The whole concept of "thinking in English" is nonsense. No-one does it. You think because you are human, and the language is universal. If you want to go somewhere, you don't translate the feeling of wanting to move into English before moving. When you are choosing things, you have the concept of what you want and then you search your mind for it. Sometimes you can't remember the precise word and stumble for a longer phrase or foreign expression to express the thought. But obviously the thought came first.

You see kids in Southall speaking a mixture of Punjabi, Hindi and English. They aren't thinking in any one of those three. As their mouths catch up with their thoughts, the first word that drops in is usually from one of those three languages. Some struggle with all of them.

It is so obvious. Yet people still use the phrase "I can think in x languages" as though it made sense.


Ann said...

I think it depends on what you're thinking. I have numerous conversations in my head with other people (obviously the other people aren't there, although people do reckon they can 'get into my head' but they don't know what they're talking about and, if they did, they'd never escape alive). I'm sure those conversations have to be in a language.

RNB said...

Yes if you have a conversation with someone in your head then you need a language for them to converse.

I was talking about the fundamental human thoughts. I want to eat or sleep or build a home or feel better or anything else. It is only at the point of trying to convey a thought to someone else that it adopts a language.

Ann said...

You see for me to be thinking "I want to sleep" this trabslates into me telling somebody "I want to sleep."

Ditto "build a home", "feel better" etc.

My husband also thinks that when he's trying to resolve a difficult problem he thinks in language too.

Personally I don't think he thinks that often. :)

Faisal said...

Surely we think in pictures? I have a vivid image in my mind right now, but never mind...