WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU THINK IN?

When a person asks me such a question, I don’t know how to answer it. Well, I would say that Language is something mystical for me. At school I studied in Kazakh-medium school, where Russian was taught as a second language and English as a foreign language. The most interesting things happened when we started learning English. The textbooks were by Russian authors; accordingly all the rules were in Russian. The teacher had to explain things in Kazakh. So now, just try to imagine: An English subject. Rules in Russian. Explanation in Kazakh. And all of these within one sentence! Complete mess! Nevertheless,  we managed to understand. This story had its continuation in the university too. But here we did more serious things, for instance translating exercises from English into Russian, or vice-versa; but presenting them either in Kazakh or in English. Then I tried to teach English in English to Russian-speakers at work; And Russian, as an interethnic language, was used as a common one within the office. At this period of my life, Kazakh, my native language, was used only at home.

Considering the whole situation, I found it wise to differentiate the purposes these three languages used for. Then it turns out to be that I use English for academic purposes, Russian for communication in more formal contexts and Kazakh for daily household purposes. So, to be me, how would you answer the question? Can we consider such a person as being fluent in any of these languages?

Let’s take our daily cases now. While listening to professors lecturing, do you always translate what you hear? Can you always explain that easily in your native language? If you are trilingual, then what language it is easy for you to deliver the gained knowledge? Do you use all these three languages in the same amount and frequency? Does your speech always sound the same way you intended to? Is it possible to express the same emotions and feelings the same way in all these languages?

In this respect, there is research discussed by Dewale and Nakana (2013) on perceptions and feelings of multilinguals. He defines the change in personality and feelings while switching the languages. According to this research, a person is more logical, emotional and sincere while speaking his native language. But if he speaks in other languages, he seems to show the shift in personality, fake or unnatural emotions and feeling. Also he becomes more serious trying to make himself understood, that is why the speech is dry. After reading the research, my conclusions on why the words, like “sorry”, “forgive me”, I love you” or “thank you” seem to be the hardest in native language, were confirmed.

To sum up, I would like to say that, may be this is not the most important issue, but is worth paying attention. As far as, how clear we think affects on how well we concentrate and how well we understand; and this is what matters.

References:

Dewaele, J. M., & Nakano, S. (2013). Multilinguals’ perceptions of feeling different when switching languages. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development34(2), 107-120.

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4 thoughts on “WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU THINK IN?

  1. This narrative clearly depicts the hardships of the students in the Kazakh-medium institutions. Even though they are enrolled in the Kazakh language programmes, they have to seek information in Russian or English, and then proceed it and translate it into Kazakhs. What a cognitively demanding process. I think the translation of the study materials adversely affects the comprehension. Consequently, the quality of education decreases. That’s why I have decided to pursue education in Russian. It is sad that due to the absence of proper study literature in Kazakh, the maintenance and revival of Kazakh suffers.
    Another point to mention in the way person expresses own ideas in different languages. The article by an author (blame my memory, I can’t remember) claims that the individuals, when speaking another language, change own behavior (posture, gestures, mimics, and speed of the speech). The reason behind is the L2 Socialization. Therefore, I do not agree with Dewale and Nakana, who argue that we are sincere only when speaking the mother tongue. I think the language the person speaks does not define whether the truth or lie is told. The language does not matter, in this case. The purpose and motifs of verbal communication matter.

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  2. Zhu-Zhu, I found your case interesting and thought some time on the problem you are raising. I, personally, was not in the situation of switching between three languages at once and studying something in the dimensions of more than two languages. But what I really agree with is that the language of your family should be the language of instruction at school. There are a lot of sad examples, when parents deciding to send their children to study at primary school in language different from their native, the result is usually the same – learners cannot perceive information fully and clearly and therefore lag behind their peers.
    We surely have a space for development, English – Kazakh books should be elaborated to help Kazakh-medium classes study comprehensively.

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  3. This is a very interesting post according to my observations too. I really sorry for such difficulties taking place during educational process of university students and school pupils. All these problems are evolved from our soviet period of history, when the Russian language was the first to develop in all Republics forming the Soviet Union. Now, we and our children still suffer from books being undeveloped. I can see the connection with one post here, where me and other people were commenting and expressing their concerns about shortage in books and tails for children available in Kazakh. So, this issue actually one of the dimension of the complex issue of Kazakh language which is still not developed in Kazakhstan.

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  4. I agree with Aisara’s thoughts. It does not matter how many languages do we speak and what language do we think in. All languages including Kazakh, Russian and English, for example you speak, Zhuldyz, are one language repertoire of you, i.e. of one individual. And all these languages serve together, even if we use them for different purposes or in different contexts. In my point of view, multilinguals can think in all languages that they speak at the same and one time. May be, sometimes it hinges upon the context. The main requirement for this is a proficiency level of language. If we have equal proficiency in three languages, we can think in three languages!

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