Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Explore Day 25

It’s day 25, with a mere 11 days left, and English and French are starting to blur.

I always used to wonder what language bilingual people thought in, but when I asked my bilingual friends, they always took a minute to answer. Normally they’d end up saying that they thought mainly in whatever language they were speaking in at the time, but that it really didn’t matter. Either language. Or both.

That didn’t make sense to me. How can you possibly think in two languages at once? Something as elementary and instinctive as thoughts should be clear, I assumed. Languages are binary opposites; it shouldn’t be possible to mix them.

Apparently I was wrong. Because after just three weeks speaking French, I’m officially thinking partly in two languages.

The weirdest thing is that there is no divide. I don’t think in French while I’m in class, and then start thinking in English when I’m hanging out with my Anglophone friends. While the dominant language does depend on what I’m doing, there’s always some trace of the other language in my thoughts.

Even stranger, the two languages mingle on a word-by-word level. A sentence I think will be half in English, and then I’ll abruptly switch to French. I’ll think, “How would you dit “happy” en Français?” or “I want un petit peu d’oatmeal et some veggies et les bananes.” It’s really odd when I catch myself talking out loud to myself in Franglais.

Talking to my friends in Explore is always amusing, since we manage to seamlessly switch back and forth between French and English. Most of our conversation outside of class is in English, but every once in awhile someone will throw out a sentence in French, and people will respond in either language, or a mix of both. Other times, when I go to ask a question, my mind automatically words it in French, or if someone asks me, “Can I have some sugar?” I’ll instinctively respond “Oui!”

The thing with learning French is that it doesn't end up becoming a mirror to English, a sort of reflection that can never really mix. Instead, it’s almost like learning new words in English. It’s a new set of vocabulary, and a new way to string words together.

I’m still far from bilingual, but it’s pretty cool when something as automatic and natural as thought starts happening in another language. It means that I’m definitely learning French… and that my thought processes might not be as deeply ingrained as I always assumed. 

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