Thinking in your target language is very important to developing fluency. Here are 9 tips for thinking in your target language.
1. Do activities in your target language
You can change your phone settings to your target language.
You could talk to your pet in your target language when you’re going for a walk.
If you commute to work by train or bus you could possibly buy your fare in your target language.
You could visit a store or restaurant and talk with the native speakers there to order food and ask questions about products.
2. Listen in your target language
While you're doing your chores or are at work, you could turn on the internet radio, listen to podcasts, or put Netflix or YouTube on in the background. Your brain is so amazing that it will begin to recognize patterns and want to follow them, too.
3. Try guessing what a native speaker is going to say
When you predict the conversation based on experience, you’ll be more confident and ready to respond. Imagine the conversations that you want to have in the future and create them before they happen so you feel more prepared.
You could write the conversation down and practice it a few times. Personally, I run it through my head several different times.
It may not go word-for-word how you plan it, so be ready for to be flexible. You may want to consider potential scenarios so you can easily adapt to anything that may come up.
4. Stop learning exclusively through translation
Observe, watch, hear, smell and relate vocabulary directly to its meaning — not the word in your native language. I like to tell my students to absorb the meaning rather than overthink it.
"And as many students already know, it's simply not possible to translate every single word or phrase. You just have to memorize it and associate it with the context rather than try to analyze it.
Language sometimes just "is" and that's all.
5. Use a monolingual dictionary
While a bilingual dictionary like Linguee.com is actually a terrific reference to learn from, the ultimate is a dictionary that doesn't offer translations.
Then you have to think in that language and try to understand the context of the definitions.
6. Label objects in your daily life in your target language
You can do this in your mind or use sticky notes attached to the objects. Start with everyday objects that you use every day.
For example, if I have a book at home and I am learning Portuguese I would label it “livro.” Or if I'm learning Arabic then I would label it “kitab.”
Every time I look at it, I'm reminded to think that word rather than translate it.
You know you're doing it right when you start saying the word in your target language out loud when you were speaking in your native language.
It happens to all of us who learn a new language when we're older (as in we didn't grow up bilingual).
It's a sign that you're absorbing the language rather than translating it, so kudos!
7. Talk to yourself in your target language
Ask yourself questions and answer them. Make up a short story about a person you see on your way to work.
I used to actually record myself and play it back so I could pick up any mistakes or even pat myself on my back for how natural I sounded.
It’s ok if you are not sure if your grammar is perfect or if you make a pronunciation mistake. No one will know.
If you’re not sure if what you said to yourself is correct or not, then make a note to yourself to find out.
You can do some research online or ask your teacher or a native-speaking friend later.
8. Start thinking in your target language using a mantra
Even the smallest effort is better than nothing. Start with a mantra, or motto, that will help you get started each day in Spanish.
For example, "My English is getting better each day." "Mi español mejora cada día." "Il mio spagnolo migliora ogni giorno."
9. Think a little more in your target language each day
Start small. Make it a habit to think in your target language a little each day.
For instance, set an alarm if it’s hard to remember to switch to the language you're learning. Then use the timer on your phone or computer set for 1 minute and think only in Spanish for that amount of time.
It doesn’t matter what you think about, or even if you just say a few of the same phrases over and over. See if you can extend the time each day by 30 seconds.
*This list has been adapted from Go Natural English's YouTube video How to Stop Translating in Your Head and Start Thinking in English.
Jackie Donaldson is the owner and director of Amidon Studios Language Studies. She started Amidon Studios in 2017 after managing a language institute in Lima, Peru. She's taught students from all over the world while living in Peru, Mexico, and the U.S. When she's not working or studying, you'll find her gardening, playing with her cat Frankie, swimming, baking, and exploring the globe.
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