I know it’s not my native language, so…

I have an upcoming trip to Europe, and will be spending a little bit of time in Italy.  I’ve been there before, and had very very minimal Italian to rely on to get me around (surprisingly few Italians speak English, you know).

So today I was trying to think of as many Italian phrases as I could, especially for useful things like buying food and train tickets.  I really couldn’t remember much, so I will definitely need to brush up a little bit before I go.

The funny thing is, whenever I couldn’t think of the words in Italian, the first thing that came to mind was the phrase in Mandarin, not English.  Mandarin is what I’m learning at the moment, and it’s currently the foreign language I know the most of, so I think my brain is just shuffling through all the foreign words it knows, because it knows I don’t want English.

The same thing happened to me while I was living in Turkey, trying to speak Turkish.  When I couldn’t find the words, my brain gave them to me in Cantonese, which at the time was my best foreign language.

I find it really interesting to see what the brain does, and what coping mechanisms it has (e.g. the time-saving strategy of not even bothering to provide options in my native language).  Has anyone else had this happen to them with a third or fourth language?