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Thinking in Japanese

When you speak English, you think in English. When you speak Japanese, you think in Japanese. Does that affect the way you think? How, and how much?

Clive's comment on my previous entry suggests something important, profound, and mysterious at the same time, about language learning.

He says it's much easier for him to comment in English than in Japanese. You may think it's a natural thing because English is his native language. But, he continues, it's not a language problem. Yes, he can communicate with me in Japanese. His Japanese is outstanding for someone who has never lived in Japan. He even has a handle on Kansai-ben! ;)

Then, what is the point? It's made clear from his following words:

when I think in Japanese,I'm just no good at thinking of things to say

I know what Clive means. I think there sure is a kind of change in mind-set when using another language. When I use English, I unconsciously turn on "the English switch" in my head. You know, I hear a clicking sound! (Oh, no more April Fools, eh?)

English and Japanese are such different languages. And one of the biggest differences is word order. The common English sentence begins with the subject and the verb follows, while the verb comes at the end in Japanese. That means when you speak Japanese, you have to use the subject-object-verb pattern and think that way. I'm not a specialist in linguistics, and I'm not quite sure how much impact this kind of shift has on your mind-set, but this difference must be significant.

My guess is that Clive has reached a certain stage in Japanese learning, an advanced one, and faces some "mind-set barrier." I'm sure he will break it by commenting more on my Japanese blog. ;)

Oh, me? I'm no good at commenting either in English or in Japanese. Ha ha!


I agree a mental shift of some form definitely takes place. Being a native English speaker, I never had any problems getting other students above or below my level to chatter away with me while we were learning Spanish in school.

It's a nightmare trying to get my friends in college to talk back to me in Japanese, however. I think I'm presently battling confidence barriers. =\ Hehe.

The link to the Kansai-ben was also enlightening: it sorted out much of the anime/videogame slang I've picked up. =)

Haha! I feel quite famous! It's an interesting thing. I really don't know what it is though. I wonder whether rather than being the change in grammar, it isn't something to do with the sort of little set phrases you unconsciously pick up when learning ones own native language. It's hard to describe what I mean - those little sets of words that everyone has, that don't actually say very much, but give your speech it's character and style. So that, when you speak another language that you have learnt later in life, it takes a while for those little characteristics to emerge completely. Until they do, no matter how good ones other language is technically, you'll still be limited to expressing just the meaning of what you want to say, but lacking the character that makes up "normal speech". For me, I have to make a bit of an effort to not sound like a textbook or an NHK news broadcast when I write Japanese, or otherwise I sound reaaaly boring. Speaking of course is much different. I can blather on like an idiot just fine in Japanese as well as English.

Haha, just be pleased you haven't heard me speaking Hiroshima-ben Kiyo. Although I can probably speak it better than Kansai, all of my Japanese friends (apart from those who come from around Hiroshima of course) hate it. Hahaha, I think the two best comments I had were : 「お~い、クライブ、広島弁でしゃべないでよ、すっげい間抜けな漢字だ」 and from another friend 「ね、広島弁は大変怖いそうだわ。」 Haha, of course my friends who speak Hiroshimaben mostly prefer me to use it with them. Do you get impressions like that when you hear other dialects Kiyo? or is it just my weird friends?

Haha, I;ve just proved my point here, by writing a giant post in English. Oh well, しゃぁないな~!

Even though I'm almost finished with my second year of Japanese (I know--it's taken me almost four years to complete a 2-year course! But I've done it off and on.), I still think in English first and then translate into Japanese.

I think this is a bad habit. I also think it has a lot to do with the way Japanese is taught in my class. Recently I tried the Pimsleur method on CD and I found the method much better for helping me react in Japanese to a situation.

たとえば、Pimsleur's will the say, "You are walking down the street. Ask the man on the corner where the train station is." instead of "Say, 'Excuse me. Where is the train station.'"

The difference might seem subtle, but I think it is better to imagine yourself in the situation and react in Japanese than it is to hear an English phrase and translate it into Japanese.

Still it will be a very long time before I can think in Japanese と思います。

I hope you will keep up posting, now that you've started again...no 三日坊主 (mikka bouzu) this time. (See, Japanese has so many wonderful expressions that English lacks. I sure it was you who taught me this one, 先生.)

So, M, I've already posted four times this month to get over my 三日坊主-ness! ガンバリマス...

I've been studying on my own for a while and will soon be starting actual Japanese classes in Japan, and I can just barely make out how my thinking is shifting into a more "nihongo"-style mode. It's interesting.

Hey, Jonathan,

I know from your blog that you've come to Japan to study Japanese. I hope this stay will be a great one for you. がんばれ~!応援してるぞ!