Speaking English, Thinking English

Thinking in the language you are speaking could be the key to better fluency.

We’ve said it a lot here; learning a new language is hard. Not only do you have to learn literally thousands of new words and all of their meanings, you need to know how to pronounce them and how to use them in sentences. Growing up in Canada, it was compulsory for us to take french classes because Canada has two official languages. I wasn’t too bad at french, but I wasn’t great either. Looking back, I’ve come to two conclusions. One, I wish I’d kept learning how to speak french and two, I should’ve learned to THINK in french.

The problem with thinking in your native language when you’re speaking another is that you are constantly translating, and that could be a problem. If you are in a constant state of translation, there’s a good chance your speech is going to be a little rocky. This is because not only do you have to painstakingly translate every word, but you may also need to rearrange the words so they make proper sense in your second language. You also have to try and do this at a conversational speed. That’s a lot of brain power to ask somebody how their day was! If you’re trying to speak this way, you’re going to run into a few problems.

The concept of thinking in another language is a little confusing. After all, our inner dialogue is always in our native language. However, there are a few tricks that you can use to help you get your head wrapped around thinking in another language.

One method you could try would be to count out loud with your fingers in english. By doing this, you are exercising your language skills and getting visual feedback about what you are saying. However, keep in mind that in order for this to work, you need to skip the “translation” part.

Counting with your fingers out loud can help reinforce you to not translate your thoughts into words

A common phrase used by language experts is “Don’t learn a language- live a language.” Typically, this means moving somewhere where your target language is the primary language. However, that’s not always possible or practical; moving to Canada to learn to speak english so you can get a job speaking english in China doesn’t really make very good practical sense.

However, there are lots of great (and cheaper) ways for you to “live” the language you’re learning right at home beyond counting out loud with your fingers. Try watching movies, tv and video in english without subtitles in your native language. This will help stop the translation in your thinking and challenge you to start thinking in english.

To take this further, concentrate on comprehending the stories in english; ask yourself, “what is a summary of the show I just watched?”, “why are these jokes funny in english?”, “what english expressions were used in this video?”, etc.

Being able to switch your inner dialogue into a different language is going to greatly improve your english skills, including pronunciation, comprehension and fluency. It may also help you rely less on stock phrases and be able to create more tailored responses for guests.

We’ve also linked an article that has a some good tips on how to help you learn to think in english. Embrace the shift in inner dialogue and you’ll sound like a native english speaker in no time.

If you didn’t recognize a few words or expressions in this article, here’s a quick guide to help you.

  • Compulsory– required by law or a rule; obligatory.
  • Rocky– Tending to rock or shake; unsteady.
  • Painstakingly- With great care and thoroughness.
  • Inner Dialogue– The never-ending conversation you have with yourself in your head; your mind.
  • Head wrapped around– To comprehend something that one considers challenging, confusing, or a foreign concept.
  • Etc.- Abbreviation of Et cetera. Used at the end of a list to indicate that further, similar items are included.
  • Stock– (of a phrase or expression) So regularly used as to be automatic.
  • Tailored– Make or adapt for a particular purpose or person.

Source: 5-Minute Language: Don’t Learn a language-Live a Language.

Think you got all of that? try the comprehension check quiz to make sure!