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Thinking in a foreign language...

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SamD
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 Message 9 of 36
07 January 2010 at 8:43pm | IP Logged 
I haven't used Assimil, but I have thought in foreign languages. I think the trigger for thinking in a foreign language happens for me when I use that language to communicate with someone else. I start out thinking in English, and somewhere along the line I start thinking in the target language.

For example, consider what happens to me if I am in France. When I arrive, I am thinking in English. However, as I start reading signs and other things in French and speaking to people around me in French, it is almost like I have shifted gears in my mind and I begin thinking in French.
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magictom123
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 Message 10 of 36
07 January 2010 at 10:21pm | IP Logged 
Before I started this thread, my own initial thoughts were that some sort of naitive
communication would have been necessary to begin thinking in the target language, whether
that be via skype or a spell of immersion in the necessary place. This sounds similar to
what you are suggesting samD
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BartoG
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 Message 11 of 36
08 January 2010 at 12:40am | IP Logged 
I think there are two forms of thinking in a language:

Talking to others automatically
Talking to yourself

magictom123 points the way with the second one: If you make a conscious effort to make your internal monologs come out in a foreign language, then when you start talking out loud to others, your brain will already be in the habit of generating language in another tongue. The hard part is finding things that aren't too contrived. If you mentally practice situations in your foreign language before they happen in real life (albeit in a different language), for example, you can get your brain used to the idea of summoning up the words to order lunch, ask for assistance renewing your driver's license or whatever.

I don't think that "thinking in another language" comes as a result of a particular course of study. Rather, it's the result of what you do outside of your study. Michel Thomas teaches a lot of structures. By learning just a little bit of vocabulary for everyday words, you'll be able to do internal narration of a lot of the things you might want to say, as well as of the things you see and hear around you. It will feel, perhaps, like you've become the absentminded professor who can't help talking to himself, but it will help you move from Michel Thomas (think through what you are saying!) to something more automatic.

Contrary to what one might think, it's possible to "think" in a language, at least in terms of the internal monolog, even with limited skills. It won't be very interesting and you'll find yourself switching back to a language you're more comfortable with, but it's possible. One nice thing that Assimil does is give you a little more varied and interesting language than you get from Pimsleur or Michel Thomas. So if you want to think in your target language, it's nice to go back to dialogs you're pretty comfortable with and imagine recounting the stories to someone else. That way the language becomes part of your experience, not just something you've read.
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Iversen
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 Message 12 of 36
08 January 2010 at 3:01am | IP Logged 
OldAccountBroke wrote:

I'm interested in what Iversen has to say, but I think it unlikely that the people noted in the study as having linguistic thought or image-based thought were thinking in a fundamentally different way from the unsymbolised thinkers -- rather I'd suggest that all thought is fundamentally symbolic and that any symbolisation is merely a way of consciously controlling thought.


Let me first say that I was quoting some people who operate with the notion "unsymbolised thoughts" - I didn't invent it. However I did compare one instance of such thoughts to a hole in search of a word. My own private experience is that both thinking in words and thinking in sensory impressions are possible (and maybe we can add numerical/mathematical thought to the bunch). But my suspicion is that all the socalled unsymbolised thinking just are half-conscious processes that never got far enough to be clad in words or images.

Personally I use conscious thinking in my target languages as a substitute for speaking. It is a wellknown fact that there are micromovements in the speech organs when you think in words, and even when I'm speaking there are also words that run through my head without being said aloud. So basically I see the two activities as overlapping and based on activity in the same brain cells.


Edited by Iversen on 08 January 2010 at 3:03am

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Cainntear
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 Message 13 of 36
16 January 2010 at 3:05pm | IP Logged 
Fanatic just started a new thread with a [url=http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=18830&PN=1&TPN=1]sample chapter from his latest book. One thing in particular jumped out at me:
fanatic wrote:
First, buy several textbooks and courses. You need audio as well as a printed textbook to learn how the language sounds. Audio is essential. If you are serious about studying the language you should buy a language course that is recorded entirely in the language you are learning. That will get you used to listening to dialogue in the language as well as encourage you to think in the language.

(The bit that interests me is highlighted in bold, the rest is included to give a bit more context.)

I still believe that most if not all people do not think "in" any language, an idea I have always believed since my dad told me it many years ago.*

Instead I suggest that we think "into" language and "out of" language, that is to say that language is an interface between my brain and your brain, a technology that we use to transfer thoughts.

Going back to fanatic's quote, then, an all-target-language course can't teach you to think "in" a language, but must instead teach you to think "into" an "out of" simultaneously.

I question the value of this.
As a beginner, I have always relied on my existing knowledge of language (from English and other languages) to help me learn to think into or out of a language. My personal feeling is that thinking out of a new language is much more difficult and stressful than thinking into it.

When I'm thinking into a language, the English comes to me without trying. It is then my responsibility to use that to help me form the target language sentence, or to ignore it if it's not going to help. On the whole, this works quite well.

However, when I'm trying to think out of a new language, I need to impose some order on random thought. Though (I believe) I think mostly unsymbolised thought, I know that when I try to reason through something I use a combination of linguistic and mathematical thought. So once I have difficult input, my brain starts using English to try and make sense of it. This use of English is far more conscious and far more active than the English I produce in my head when trying to speak into a language, so it strikes me as a very bad habit.

So I like to learn about the structure of a language and the meaning of words in English -- to me English can be passively used and passively understood, and the knowledge I gain via the English explanation can help me to think into my target language, and once I can say something, I can understand it.


* My dad was a high school science teacher who had taken a particular interest in the psychology of learning from the time he started teacher training. He said this to us when I was quite young as my big sister had been told she had to learn to "think in French", although her teacher really couldn't explain what it meant. My dad's answer was that the teachers couldn't say what it meant because it didn't mean anything... because people don't think in any language at all.
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rostocpj
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 Message 14 of 36
16 January 2010 at 5:03pm | IP Logged 
Ok so I'm going to try to make this as short as possible.

When I first started looking at the idea of "thinking in a foreign language", I decided to look at how children thought in a language only having 100 vocabulary words, while the majority of adults say that they studied a language for many many years and could still not think in it despite the fact that they could decipher, say, Les Misérables. They say that they can have a pretty sizable conversation on politics or whatever but always have to translate through that English (my native language is English, so fill in yours here) "filter" first.

What separates these two groups? what's the difference? In my observations, it clearly has to do with the native language of the adult.(Duh)

Since you were a child you were raised to develop the habit of thinking (in my case) in English, so that whenever someone held up a pencil the word "pencil" was formed in your mind. Your brain has gotten really incredibly good at this (lots of practice), so when you are learning a language and are trying think in it, the habit of thinking in English easily beats out any habit of thinking in, say, French.

Many people are very impatient in there language learning and want to begin expressing the most complex ideas from the first word they learn, but when they try they realize that they don't have the vocabulary necessary to do so and their brain immediately kicks in its habit of thinking in English. In my opinion, in order to learn well and actually THINK in the foreign language you need to function in that language as though you were a child (with no preconceived ideas or known vocabulary in any language).

Long story short, if your goal is to think in a foreign language, you don't need to necessarily practice it to its end (notice I said think in a foreign language NOT think like a nuclear physicist). What you SHOULD practice is NOT thinking in your native language. You need to break that habit that your brain has of thinking in English first. Many people say "well then how am I supposed to formulate my ideas during a conversation about nuclear physics if i can't think in English?" My answer is that, if your target language is to the level of being able to discuss nuclear physics, then you won't need English. If it's not and you try anyway, then there's no chance that your going to think in your target language. Your brain latches on to English because it wants to express itself and isn't capable yet in your target language.

There are various techniques and exercises that you can do to break yourself of your native language such as meditation and some exercises (one of which I heard from Stu Jay Raj) that I've come across. I'll try and explain more about those some other time and possibly in another thread.

Hope I haven't rambled too much and that I helped at least one person haha.
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Iversen
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 Message 15 of 36
17 January 2010 at 10:07pm | IP Logged 
Cainntear wrote:
(Cainntear's) dad's answer was that the teachers couldn't say what it meant because it didn't mean anything... because people don't think in any language at all.


I simply don't understand your dad. There may be such a thing as thinking 'without symbols', but I have a inner monolog running in my head most of the time, and it is most definitely formulated in words, phrases and sentences. In between I may think in images, such as when I try to find a route on a map or make an aesthetic choice while drawing, and those activities may not be symbolic, but the rest of the time I'm certainly thinking in languages. And as stressed by Rostocpj and others the trick used to turn this inner monologue into words from an other languages is to start slow: describe your environment in single words, proceed to words, add in fixed expressions if you know any and and .. until you are thinking in complete sentences in your target language.

In fact I don't understand how anybody who can speak a foreign language at any level can avoid thinking in that language. And I find it difficult even to imagine how you can learn to speak without passing through a thinking phase. But people are different...


Edited by Iversen on 17 January 2010 at 10:11pm

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Cainntear
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 Message 16 of 36
17 January 2010 at 10:26pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
I simply don't understand your dad. There may be such a thing as thinking 'without symbols', but I have a inner monolog running in my head most of the time, and it is most definitely formulated in words, phrases and sentences.

His point was that the inner monologue isn't thought, just language. Language is the result of thought.

Anyone who attempts to monitor their own thoughts will have to impose some order on them to "see" them, so any experiment into the nature of thought will always hit the observer's paradox: the observation of thought by the thinker changes the nature of the thought.

I've personally found that stopping the inner monologue and trusting myself makes me a lot better and quicker at things as diverse as arithmetic, cycling and scanning for words -- so it appears to me that symobilisation is not the natural way to deal with things, and actually a bad habit.


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