Friday, 28 December 2012

Do bilingual children ever think in their minority language?

Recently I find myself often wondering what language Poppette (who is 26.5 months old) thinks in. I imagine it's mostly, if not entirely, in her majority language but I could be totally wrong and have no way of actually finding out.

Her language ability in both her languages is impressive and she often translates for the other parent if she's had a conversation with one of us and wants or needs to talk about the same thing with the other. She is also expressing an understanding of the fact that Papa speaks English and Mummy speaks French and usually, when faced with an object she hasn't come across before, she will ask us both what it is and will be both wanting and expecting to hear two different words.

I know that, when I am speaking French, I'm not translating from English in my head but I also know that, when I'm sat ruminating,  I do it in English. I think that's pretty standard for someone who learnt their languages consecutively rather than simultaneously. But....If you learn both languages at the same time which one do you think in? A bit of both perhaps?

I'd really like to hear from anyone out there with experience or knowledge on this topic and, if you have bilingual children, perhaps you could ask them and let me know what they say :D


  1. Hi again! It's been so long...I think about you and your blog and your life a lot more than I let on--in fact, you've been on my mind lately because I plan to elect you for the Liebster Blog Award...but I need to get on it and create my post, which will have all the details in it for you. I have SO enjoyed our relationship over the years--you have been such a support for me when things got really hard, and it's been fun for me to watch you and Poppette grow--esp. because our paths are so similar. I love this question that you post in your latest post...when Kaya comes out of her room, I'd like to ask her, too. I think she might be too young to tell me, at nearly 4, but who knows...she just came out yesterday with the comment I've been waiting for: "..but you speak English, Mama...why do you respond to me in German when I speak English?"
    So, I'll do some research on my end for you...and will work on making that nomination "official" for you...I couldn't hold back from telling you, however, since you are who came to mind first!
    Tamara in Portland

  2. It's an interesting topic :) Just my thought: I would say balanced bilinguals probably think in both languages (not at the same time).
    I haven't asked my 4 yr old what language she thinks on, but I know she dreams in both languages (I hear her when she talks in her sleep, sometimes in English, other times in Romanian) - and I thinks that could answer you question .... it is surely a sign there's brain activity by default in both languages (not just when she knows she's expected to reply in one of her languages).

  3. Very good point from Adina above and something I will look out for. That said ... I would be strongly inclined to believe that Z thinks in French. Although he is fluent in both languages, French is his default language. In moments of high emotion or total relaxation (joy, sadness, anger, fear, or the moments when he is half asleep or just waking up) he ALWAYS speaks French, whatever the circumstances or company, while in calmer times he will use the appropriate language(s) for the situation.

  4. This is an interesting thought! Unfortunately I have neither experience or knowledge about it and as my daughter is only 19months it´s too young to say but I´m enjoying all the responses you are getting!

  5. HI again. I asked Kaya, who is nearly 4, but she said she didn't know. I think I agree with Adina guess is that she thinks in both...though sometimes, as evidenced by the English words that pop out at times, I wonder if it's English more often. That may just be my fear, though, coming up with that theory.

    Either way, I wanted to thank you, first of all, for all of your continued support over the years. I know it's been crazy with life, as we both continue to live it through this bilingual journey, but at the foundation of it all, ever since you first found my blog, I've felt your immense support. Thus, I thought it only fitting that I you be my first nomination for the Liebster Blog Award. Have you heard of it? I think it's a pretty cool, fun award, much like the carnival in flavor, that helps blogs get spread around to others who may be interested. It would be great if you wanted to participate, but either way, just remember that you still have a fan over here, and take a gander when you get a moment.

    All the best, and Congrats!!
    much love,