Cassidy Williams

Software Engineer in Chicago

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My language brain is... broken?

I visited my in-laws in South Korea recently, and it was really awesome being able to see them. I don’t speak Korean, but I’ve picked up enough words here and there to be able to somewhat understand the high-level topic of conversation, and nodded suuuper enthusiastically if they smiled at me.

One thing that I did notice though (that kind of messed with me) is that as I was trying to pay attention to what was going on in Korean, I was thinking more and more in Spanish (my second language). A couple times I actually responded “sí” or, “puedo tener un poco más?”

This happened throughout the entire trip. I tried researching this as a phenomenon, with no results. There were lots of articles and studies like, “your language shapes how you see the world” and “music helps with learning multiple languages” and “your personality changes depending on the language you use” etc, but nothing on… thinking in one language when you hear another.

I’m sure though that there’s some kind of trigger in our brains for this. All I can think that there’s a toggle in my weird brain that says, “ah ha, it’s foreign language time, time to switch to the other language you know, but not as well as English!” I have no idea if this is true, or if there’s any science behind it whatsoever, but for now, I’ll just have to rest in my hypothesis. It might be different too because I learned Spanish a little later (after age 10), rather than from a more native perspective, so that “toggle” I’m thinking of is more of a learning toggle, rather than a language one? I don’t know.

Anyway, my brain is weird. Maybe I’ll think in Korean someday while listening to Spanish, who knows!

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