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Do you think in the language in which you write?

English is not my mother tongue.

It is the language I’m most at home with however. I speak three other languages, but English remains my natural medium of expression.

Someone asked me today whether I think in English, and my unthinking, immediate answer was, yes.

But I remembered snatches of other languages from my dreams, and my everyday mundane thoughts. I wonder if I also think in the other languages, and how it affects my fictive dream– the dream-state I slip into when I’m writing?

I find local words strolling into my fiction, whether in Malay, Hokkien, Italian or Hindi, not all of which I speak! I hear those words (or versions of them, till I ask around and find the right ones when editing), and can’t help taking them down– because I don’t make up most of my stories, they happen around me in the movie inside my head, and I try to put it on paper to create another movie in the reader’s head.

I know that most of the audience of this blog speaks English as native tongue, but I also know there are others who do not.

If English isn’t your mother tongue, how do you relate to it as a reader and as a writer? Do you think in the language in which you write? If English is your mother tongue, do you speak any other languages? Have you ever written in them?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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10 Comments

  • jb4words says:

    Spanish is my native language. I'm trilingual (English and French), but my thoughts change depending of my surroundings. When I am home I just communicate in Spanish so I think in spanish, but when I am at work or outside of my house my thinking language changes to english. I never really thought about it until now.

  • Ashen says:

    My mother tongue is German. Having learned Engish at school, and it being spoken among international students, it grew on me. Interests and friends brought me to England and I've lived here since 1978, continuing my studies too, which means I missed out on specific German terms (nomenclature), which is sometimes embarrassing. Whenever I'm with German friends, or read German literature, I quickly catch up, and it's a lovely, memory-enriching feeling. For reason I don't understand, English has become the language I write in, presently novels. I've no doubt the soul of the two languages are present in my writing 🙂

  • Rajat Gaur says:

    English is not my mother tongue either. I live in a small town in India where anyone hardly even understands English. I talk in Hindi in my everyday life. But I have a blog where I do write in English. As far as thinking in English is concerned, it depends upon what I'm thinking about. For example, when I think about things related to technology or internet, I almost always think in English. For most of the other stuff, I'm much more comfortable with Hindi.

  • My native language is Italian, but I speak English fluently and – most importantly – I do all my writing in English. I do think in English when I write, and I think becuase I write in English and writing is such an absorbing activity, I sometimes slip into thinking in English even when I speak Italian… which is kind of embarassing sometimes when everybody else speaks Italian around you. But it does happens – and not so infrequently – that the English word comes to me immediately and I have to think hard what the Italian word is.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I think multi-lingual writers have a great advantage. There are so many ways one thing can be expressed in a single language, so think of the multitude of ways they can be expressed in several. Lovely to have that ability.

  • Birgit says:

    I speak German but am not fluent in it and I have written letters to my relatives. I think in English but what is funny is, in my dreams, when I am speaking another language, I speak fluently! It is usually German but also I have spoken in French. What is weird is I can't speak French at all except for some useless little sentences.

  • Susan Scott says:

    English is my mother tongue..there are MANY different languages in South Africa of the various Black population – eg. Tswana, Zulu. Afrikaans is from the early Dutch colonists, and we had to learn it at school at which I was extremely useless. But for me interestingly, I sometimes use Afrikaans words in email to a friend of mine here in SA .. it is so expressive. Eina!-means Ouch! Eish!- like Ish! For vrek's sake means for ….'s sake …

  • Andrew Leon says:

    When I was in high school taking Spanish, I sometimes slipped into it by mistake. Especially in class.
    Now, I can't remember any of it.
    Okay, well, that's not entirely true. I can pick up some when others are speaking it, but I can't say anything in it.
    I think my other language is grammar and punctuation, which is bad enough.

  • Romi C says:

    English is not my mother tongue. I don't even live in a country where it is spoken. I have been studying it, (and teaching it) as a foreign language. I write my blogs in English because I want to practice using the language in a meaningful way, and because I would like to 'meet' people from other countries through my blogs.
    I usually think in English when I'm writng in it. I seldom translate what I think in Japanese into English. Translating seems more difficult than writing.

  • I used to speak fluent Japanese, but it's been so long I don't remember most of it. So all my thoughts and words are in English.

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