What language is your "mental dialogue" in?

When I’m in Taiwan, it’s pretty much split between English and Chinese. Shortly after I’ve just spoken with someone in Chinese, it’s very likely to be Chinese. But even when I’m at home putting about, I find myself thinking to myself in Chinese.

If I’m lucky enough to have a chance to speak with someone in one of the other languages I’ve learned, I need to kick that mental dialogue into high gear (in a hurry!). I start muttering to myself, say, in Spanish to wake up the Spanish hamster in my brain. What’s really funny is if I need to speak French, I say “Uhhhh…uhhhh…” (common French filler utterance) to start the French hamster. :rainbow:

This whole past month has had me in a permanent Chinese mode that spills over into everything else I do. Basically, at my morning and (until the end of next week) afternoon jobs the staff all speak to me in Chinese.

At both places there is someone that speaks English (and one in the afternoon that speaks really well) and normally I’d speak to them in English, but this month I speak to them in Chinese to (it seems easier for some reason).

And when I’m out and about I tend to think about things “in Chinese” (simple things mostly, but things nonetheless).

So if I’m thinking about the fabric of the universe, that’ll be in English. But if I’m thinking about what I’m going to do today, or what I’ll be eating for lunch, there’s a good chance that it’ll be in Chinese (probably because it will be the dominant language for those situations).

I think in gibberish more than anything else, as is reflected in much of what I say.

It would be lovely if I could catch myself thinking in Chinese without a forced effort to do so, but I’ve yet to be aware of it happening and I doubt it ever will. Although I function in Chinese most of the time on most days, my poor brain just isn’t wired to accept the language as one it can comfortably and naturally use for processing data, cogitating on deep matters, or engaging in idle unvoiced banter with itself.

I am not a native English speaker and I do remember when the shift happened. It got very frustrating sometimes, I often felt like leaving the English world for like one day so I wouldn’t have to struggle finding the words to talk to myself. Inversly, ten years later that’s what happens to me now if I speak my native language. I’m losing my mother tongue, my old friends and family even tell me that I don’t sound like I used to.

Always looking for the words you need even in thoughts gets annoying but after a few years like that, you learn more and it gets easier. In fact, once your thought process changes language, your learning curve becomes sharp. Fair trade for the inconveniences.

Nowadays, quite often I still can’t find the English words I need but I manage to express myself better and without brain stalls. The interruptions are what I call brain stalls. That’s when you can’t think further without that word you need. Of course you know what you want to say/think and it’s not that important to have the exact word(especially in thoughts)but it happens and it slows down your thought process. Very annoying that is.

[quote]What language is your “mental dialogue” in?[/quote]My mother doesn’t speak a word of English. When I dream about her, she often speaks “perfect” English to me. That should answer your question.


Interesting topic. There’s some sort of saying that when you think or dream in a second language, you’ve really got it. This isn’t true for me. I started thinking in Chinese at least sometimes very early on, and I was never a good language learner.

I htink most of the time my thought process is like an imagined conversation in my head. But the important thing is that my imagined conversations are usually with a specific person. I was good friends with my first Chinese teacher, so a lot of what I was thinking was imagined conversation with her in Chinese. Now it’s often with my wife, in Chinese, or an imagined Forumosa post, in English :blush:


Very Very good topic, in my dream, it would be Mandrain, TAiwanese and English…it depends what the dream is about…

In life, it depends, if I am talking to my parent, I think in Mandrain, but if I am talking to my friends, then it’s in English… Hmm… that depends too…

God I don’t know, you are confusing me!!! :loco:

Mostly Chinese, Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, so I have to translate to post here. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I remember thinking “meiyo dongshi” when I walked into a shop here and found nothing I wanted during my first year here and that was way before I took any Chinese lessons. It may have been because I was in a place where there weren’t a lot of foreigners.

Right now, it’s rarely in Chinese as I have much more foreign contact.

esperanto :wink:

Thinking? In Taiwan?

[quote=" Bu Lai en"]There’s some sort of saying that when you think or dream in a second language, you’ve really got it. [/quote] I think it’s a sign that the transition in your thought process is happening. Once you dream of someone who can’t speak the language but yet they speak it in the dream, it’s a sign that the transition is complete and that one is down to translating(not quite translating but slower thought process) in order to think and speak in the original language.

To say I’ve “got it” is flattering but it’s not quite true. I find I am able to express myself as well as I need to(except when I’m upset) but I do make mistakes constantly. Grammar, syntax, even plain spelling mistakes are abundant when I write. It took me eight years to master the"th" sound which is one thoughest darn sound to make for a French tongue. By then, my thought process was English and so were most of my dreams but I would still say"tree" instead of “three” or “brodder” instead of “brother”.

[quote]But the important thing is that my imagined conversations are usually with a specific person.[/quote] Usually?! What about the other “imagined conversations”? :astonished: How many …er…fingers do you see? :laughing:

Whenever I learn a new language, I try just to ‘think’ the words I’ve learned, rather than thinking in English and translating. So if I learn paiseh (sorry/scuse) in Taiwanese, I just associate it with the language-free concept of enschuldigen sie mir bitte, disculpe, pardon. Even if it’s my very first word in Taiwanese, when I raise a hand apologetically and say paiseh, I’m not thinking in English. What this means is that from the very beginning of studying any language, part of my thinking becomes ‘in’ that language, and the amount I’m capable of thinking in that language slowly grows over time. It also means that my thought process slows down relative to the weakness in a particular language. I can think most quickly in English, followed by near normal speed in Spanish and Mandarin. I can’t really think much in Cantonese, Thai, German, French or Taiwanese, but when I do use my VERY limited vocab in those languages, the thought is occurring in them, not English. I don’t know whether this matches other people’s experience or not. I also find that I begin dreaming about things whenever I’m intensely focused on them for a matter of days or weeks, so I’ve very quickly found myself dreaming, at least a little, in all but the last two languages at some point, and have also found myself reading or discussing modern and oracle bone characters in my dreams (albeit only once or twice).

I caught myself having a mental conversation with myself in Chinese again today. It actually happens very often (nearly every day) with me. Since probably 70-80% of my daily conversations are in Chinese, I find myself (even after all these years) “rehearsing” conversations, for lack of a better term. Before meeting someone, I think about what I want to say and how I’m going to say it.

I regularly have dreams in other languages, sometimes more than one at the same time.

Tres bizarre. :rainbow:

After spent 7 years in the States, I think in English, but for some reason, whenever I do arthmetic or counting, I do it in Chinese in my head.


My thinking occurs only in images. Sometimes I imagine two big screen LCD TVs in my head, and they flash images at one another.


That’s a good observation. I never stopped counting in French to date. It’s just easier.

Jd, you’re a fakkin genius.

Mental dialogue? What are you all, schizophrenic? I don’t know about you, but I typically only have one voice going on inside my head.

“NO! Put the knife down!”
“That’s it. I’m outta here.”
“Hmm, tasty…”

well, I can offer at least one reason for my case, you know that in English things are incremented by 1000s (thousand, million, billion, blah blah), but it’s not the case in Chinese (one “ten thousand”, one “one hundred million” is how we increment). The other thing is I think when I memorize phone number I tend to do it in both for some odd reason.

[quote=“alidarbac”]Mental dialogue? What are you all, schizophrenic? I don’t know about you, but I typically only have one voice going on inside my head.

“NO! Put the knife down!”
“That’s it. I’m outta here.”
“Hmm, tasty…”[/quote]

Only one? - poor fellow.
I have this sadistic blood-thirsty killer voice inside me as well. But then there is this guy telling me to hold out the other cheeck as well.

As a result, it makes me a boring average. Sigh.

I think in English almost all the time, but I have had the odd Chinese dream, and I also tend to “rehearse” my Chinese language conversations. I also find that after I’ve done alot of Chinese studying or learnt something new in Chinese I play it over and over in my head and have a mock mental dialogue with myself in Chinese.

But then again, I’ve always talked to myself. The embarrassing thing is when I forget myself and speak out loud and someone catches me at it… :blush: But in my defense I should say that I’ve never lost an argument with myself, in Chinese or in English… :smiley: