Clearly we are talking to ourselves most of our waking hours. There are many ways to explore this phenomenon, but I would like to raise some questions for reflection and discussion particularly for those of you who speak more than one language. For example, my default is my native US American English which is regularly chattering away in my mind as I interpret experiences and make decisions, not just weighty life decisions that even such things as whether I should climb the steps or take the elevator to my upstairs apartment given the weight of groceries that I am carrying. My ecological discourse argues with my convenience discourse.
But this is not always the case, for example when other languages are involved. Being relatively fluent in German, French and Spanish, my mind's automatic pilot will shift into these languages as it tries to listen and figure out what I should offer the conversation I am immersed in when it is my turn to speak, when I want to make a point. At moments when I lack the words, the English will come back and bounce around a little, until I either find the word in the language being spoken or ask for help. This is also true, by the way, when I am in a group with its own accents, vocabulary and slang, their version of English. I'm a different person with a different voice depending on the group that I am in.
Sometimes funny things happen. Though I live in France I may be watching a German movie of an evening. So, to the bewilderment of the caller I'm likely to pick up the ringing phone and say something like, "Schön guten Abend, Herr Simons am Apparat!", instead of, "Bonsoir, etc."
And, there is also the question of dreaming in a different language, for me something that does occur, although not too frequently. Even more rarely, a multilingual dream.
What is to be learned from observing this and discussing it? Besides raising my awareness of my inner conversations with myself and how they echo my culture, here are some possible lines of inquiry for journaling or more discussion:
- When, where, and why do I switch from one inner language to another? What does this switch feel like? What sort of effort does it take, if any?
- While we know that when speaking another language with others there are personality and feeling shifts along with the likelihood of different nonverbal sounds and gestures. What does this feel like from the inside?
- When and how do I switch accents, if I am capable of several, and why?
Why do I choose to speak the language that I choose to speak when I'm speaking with another person, whose native language is not mine, but who can speak my native language. For example, I clearly remember how, years ago, when I had a dispute with my German girlfriend, I would speak my best German slowly and clearly so make sure she got my point, while she would speak her absolute and most precise English to make sure that I got hers!