This is actually a pretty good question for me to answer because I speak several languages. I speak English, Spanish, Romanian, Japanese, Korean, and according to the French, I speak French. I always hesitate to include French because I can’t do as much with it as I can with the others. However, the French I know, is permanently and forever ingrained in me and will never leave me. I can go for years not hearing or reading and French, and sit down and watch a movie or hear someone talking and understand, but I have trouble manipulating it after a certain point because I learned it as a child and never quite got the grammar. I can manipulate all the others as much as I want. In order of how well I do, I do English,
Romanian, and Spanish the best, and then Korean, and then Japanese. There was a time my Japanese was much better, but it has been a while since I have had a chance to speak it, and I am not good at kanji. Since I am a good person to ask this question of, I am going to tell you how my brain works.
I can carry on conversations in all these languages, but some are like my first language. I learned a lot time ago that if I don’t learn to think in a language, it is hard to speak it, so I have thought in all six languages. It is one of the keys to learning language. You can’t just always be translating in your head. It just confuses things and slows you down. I have learned to pull one language to the front of my brain and use it when I want to. If someone wants me to speak a foreign language, all they have to do is speak to me in a language I know, and my brain is like a computer. It pulls that language to the front of my brain, and I respond in that language without thinking about it.
I have been known, however, to get confused. In S. Korea, I used to go to parties with S. Koreans and Romanians at the same time. The problem was that all of them wanted to speak in their first language, and my brain will oblige. I would be standing and talking to someone in Korean, and a Romanian would walk up, and if they didn’t say anything, I might accidently talk to a Romanian in Korean. I might do the same thing if a Korean walked up while I was talking to a Romanian and speak Romanian to a Korean. If they walk up and talk to me in their first language, my brain doesn’t get confused. They automatically program me, and the right language comes out of my mouth.
When I was sick here, I was sitting and talking to my Mexican friends in Spanish, and I had a hard time staying in Spanish even though I usually can. My brain wanted to spit out Romanian, and every so often, my Mexican friends would say, “Is that Romanian?” There are times I think Romanian will take my brain over because it flows out of me so easily. My daughter put the Romanian alphabet on my computer so I could use it better on my blog, and now my computer refuses to send out English messages too. It is okay because it is the same as English to me.
As far as my dreams, they can get crazy. If I have been spending a lot of time in one particular language during the day, I may dream in that language at night. However, since I speak several, what normally happens to me is I am walking around, and it seems that each person is speaking to me in a different language. If I were to quote my dreams, I would probably be the only one who could understand all of it because my combination of languages is pretty unusual.
There are others who speak the amount of languages I speak, but their combinations are different. I met a man in Nigeria who spoke seven languages. He spoke English, Hausa, and five other tribal languages coming from Nigeria. My Romanian friend who lives in S. Korea speak English, Romanian, and French. She keeps working on Korean, but never feels like she can really do it, but I have heard her say things in Korean. Korean is a really hard language, and after time, if she keeps working at it, she will probably get it. Usually, if someone was going to speak several languages, it would be all European languages or all African languages. I understand that I am an exception in the kind of languages I can use. At one time, I even spoke a little Hausa, a Nigerian language. If I hear people speaking Arabic, I have been know to understand a little Arabic too. When someone speaks Portuguese or Italian, I understand, but I have never studied either language. I have been batted all over the world in my life time. I didn’t plan it that way, but I have tried to take advantage of the situations I found myself in, and I love to understand.
If you truly want to speak a foreign language, as I said, it is easier to let yourself think in that language than to always be translating. That means I have thought in English, Spanish, Romanian, Japanese, and Korean. I can watch movies in French, but it is still hard for me to manipulate French very much. I recently began getting on dou lingo, the language site, and was trying to do some French to upgrade my French a little. I was whizzing through their lessons because I have no trouble understanding French for the most part. However, I wanted to read it better and understand the grammar better. They were closing lessons off that I had done, and if I didn’t try to memorize on the spot as I was reading, I missed the grammar and pronunciation. On top of that, I was spending too much time on the computer and my eyes became bloodshot and were bothering me, so I have slowed down with that because it doesn’t matter how well I do French. There are no French people around me now. I have two friends in France, and we speak Romanian together. I used to substitute teach in French classes, but I am retired, so I don’t need it for that either. I actually think if a movie were made out of some of my dreams, they would blow people’s minds because everyone speaks a different language to me.