Thinking in English will help your language skills to grow. It is possible to teach yourself to think in a second language. In this posting I talk about 8 ways to teach yourself to think in English. The download at the end will summarize these ways and give you some questions to think about.
Why should I be thinking in English?
You may ask, what’s wrong with translating. Thinking in another language is hard. That is certainly true at first. In the beginning, thinking in your native language and translating when you use English is completely natural and necessary. As you gain new skills in English, however, translating will slow you down. You will miss the second half of the conversation because you are too busy translating the first half. This will cause you to struggle in developing fluency. Thinking in English is a gradual process, but it can and will happen. There will be times when you will need to fall back on your native language (for example–in emergencies, when thinking very complex thoughts, or when doing math). As you gain skills, however, this will happen less and less often.
Let us look at the 8 steps to thinking in English.
1. Start where you are when thinking in English.
Start small. You know that you cannot learn a new language in one day. You did not even learn your own language in one day. Be willing to take the time you need to learn English. Think about what you already know in English. Think in words, then sentences, and then in paragraphs. Your sentences do not have to be long and complex. Short and simple is better–and easier. As your fluency improves, your sentences will become more complex.
2. Think in English by having English conversations with yourself.
In the morning, tell yourself, in English, what you will be doing during the day. In the evening, pretend that you are talking to an American friend, and tell the friend about your day. Rehearse conversations you expect to have with your boss or with co-workers. If you have an opinion about a news event, express that opinion to yourself in English.
3. Use an English to English dictionary.
There are times when you will really need to know a word that is giving you trouble in your own language to fully understand a situation. Those times should decrease, however, as your English knowledge grows. Most of the time, try to use a monolingual English to English dictionary. Choose and ESL or English learner’s dictionary. The definitions will be simpler and there will be more illustrations. There are many good ones available both in paper or in apps on your phone. If you search for “ESL Dictionary,” or “Learner’s Dictionary,” you should be able to find something that works for you.
4. Practice your new skills over and over again.
It takes time before a new skill becomes automatic. When you have learned a new skill, a new tense, or new vocabulary, practice it as often as possible. At first you will have to think about it and probably translate. But eventually, you will find yourself doing it automatically and even thinking in English about it.
5. Read, practice and memorize key phrases to help your thinking in English.
Certain phrases come up over and over again in conversation. Here are a few:
- I love/like/hate/dislike…
- I’m interested in…
- I’m a big fan of… (This means I like something a lot.)
- I’m crazy about… (This means I love something.)
- I’m excited/worried/happy/unhappy/concerned about….
- I’m looking forward to…
- Oops! My bad. (This is slang. It means “I’m sorry. I made a mistake.)
6. Let the TV, movies, and print media become your teachers.
Read in English as much as you can. Read books, newspapers, articles on the internet, or magazines. When you come to a word you don’t know, look it up in your English to English dictionary. Use your native language to English dictionary only as a last resort. When you are finished reading, tell yourself, in English, all about what you have just read. Watch American TV and go to American movies without using subtitles. Summarize the show to yourself afterwards, in English, of course. Start with simple, fun shows, and move on to more complex ones as your English skills develop.
7. Try to find American friends to talk with and help you think in English.
The more you practice your English, the more proficient you will become, and the sooner you will be thinking in English. Try to socialize with friends or co-workers who do not speak your language. Find people who like the same sports that you do, or who enjoy the same types of music or activities that you enjoy. That will give you something to talk about. Of course you can always talk about the weather with anyone.
8. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
Mistakes are a natural part of learning a new language. When you were learning your own language, you made mistakes. When you make a mistake it means you are using English and learning and growing. You cannot learn a new language without making mistakes. Your American friends will be happy to help you. They will not look down on you. In fact, they will respect you and the efforts you are making. If you make a mistake and you end up saying something funny, laugh at yourself. Your friends are not laughing at you. They are laughing with you. Let it be a learning exercise.
You now know that thinking in English is possible. You can teach yourself the skills you need to think in English. If you do this, your vocabulary, fluency, and comfort in English will grow. Before long, you will find that when you are speaking or reading in English, you are also thinking in English. You may even begin to dream in English! The download will give you some questions to think about as you work toward thinking in English.
Idioms of the day
- to play it by ear–This means to do something without a plan. We have no specific plans for our vacation in London. We’ll just play it by ear and look at the sights that are interesting to us.
- to kill two birds with one stone–This means to accomplish to things with only one action. Having a garage sale is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. You can get rid of a lot of things that you no longer want, and you can make some money.