It’s often said that thinking or even dreaming in a foreign language is THE marker of genuine fluency, but is this actually true? Cogito ergo sum. Je pense donc je suis. I think, therefore I am. Descartes sure thought so, but how does this apply to thinking in additional languages?
Answering this question requires getting to the absolute basis of what makes up a language. Are words merely symbols or labels which we affix meaning too – replacing one set of labels for another repeatedly until our neo-cortex finally chooses one over another automatically? Or is language an alternate reality one steps into and out of, imbued with culture and context? I pulled this interesting comment from an online discussion on a similar topic:
What makes language exciting is that each one divides up the world into sometimes overlapping categories or concepts but there are different “seams” and “patches” to every quilt — you can say things in German which cannot be said in English. -Unknown
What a beautiful thought – the world as one big cozy quilt of overlapping language patches, each filling in where another falls short. French is the language of lovers, Japanese for sound effects and English for sarcastic, utilitarian purposes? But seriously..
Learning a new language is not just about rote memorization of vocabulary and phrases. One has to memorize and intuit new sets of labels and labeling systems for everything around and within them. Effective teachers use miming, images or symbols to illustrate the meanings of new words rather than offering handouts and translations into their native language – attaching a new word to a image or movement makes it easier to think of, rather than translate from. Many language learning resources take advantage of this (consider Rosetta Stone for example).
Linguists suggest that dreaming and thinking in another language is a goal of language learning. There isn’t a set amount of time that one has to study for before being able to do this. What matters is the amount of time and consistent effort a person puts into learning the desired language and immersing themselves in language and culture of the language that counts. Within a few months (to years.. ahem..) of learning a new language, a person may start to notice some of their inner dialogues are in the new language rather than thinking in their native language and then speaking the translations.
Learning a new language takes time, effort and motivation. Every person will experience language learning differently and there is no one formula for fluency.
So, as they say in Korea… 화이팅! (Fighting!)^^