How to think in a foreign language

If you are a person who loves learning foreign languages, you’ve surely heard that thinking in the target language improves your chances of becoming fluent in it. This probably falls right in line with the things you learn, such as speaking, reading, writing, and listening. The only difference with thinking in a foreign language is that you control the thinking on your own.

‘Despite what many people think, thinking in a language is actually a skill. This is an intimate process that helps you translate the thoughts from a language you know to a language you are trying to learn, and what bigger liberty to express yourself than in your mind, when no one else is distracting or listening?’ – says Leo Gomez, content writer at the academic writing help service RushMyEssay.

Once you come to the point where you have some knowledge of a foreign language, it is time to work on this skill.

Here are 7 science-based methods to thinking in a foreign language that will help you achieve this:

1. Focus on Fluency, Not Accuracy

If you’ve studied the best ways to learn a language, you surely know of this strategy. Interestingly, the same actually applies to thinking in a foreign language, since the process actually intertwines expression and thought.

When you focus on accuracy over fluency, you are unable to express yourself, either inside or outside your head. At least not during the first levels of your foreign language learning. Grammar and vocabulary is extremely important and should definitely be learned, but when it comes to thinking inside your head, it is time to let this go.

The key to achieving language fluency through thinking in a foreign language is to get rid of the idea that it has to be perfect. Aiming towards perfection can lead to what experts call perfection paralysis, which can only cause frustration and decrease your motivation to learn.

2. Visualize

Another common trick between thinking and speaking in a foreign language is visualization. In order to express your thoughts in a language different from the one you are using on daily basis, it is very helpful to actually visualize the things you are saying.

The brain is not created in a way that it can fully differentiate between imagined and real actions. One study has proven that the brain sends exactly the same impulses to a person’s legs when he is imagining running, as it does when the actual running process is happening.

As it turns out, our brain is set to treat visualization as similar to the real deal. This is why we use imagination to plan things and adjust our strategies, and why we should visualize learning a foreign language.

3. Think Directly

Some experts say that, in order to learn a language, you need to think ONLY in that language. This is certainly not something you can achieve at the beginning phases of your language learning, but you should eventually start aiming toward such ‘direct thinking’.

When you translate everything you think, you may get stuck in between worlds, or lose the idea along the way. But, when you think directly in the target language, you can easily detect the gaps in your knowledge and wake those dormant vocabulary phrases and words you do not use when actually speaking the language.

4. If It Does Not Work, Translate Your Thoughts

When you cannot think in the language directly, this seems like the obvious thing to do. And it actually is. If you haven’t arrived to the point where you can get visualize and actually think in the foreign language, you need to start with your own and turn that stream of words into a translation inside your brain.

You’ve probably heard of this strategy and most likely, you heard that it is a bad thing to do for your language learning. The previous strategy is definitely the most recommended when it comes to thinking in a foreign language, but we can all agree that you cannot just skip to thinking directly when learning a completely new language!

If you are a beginner, start translating your thoughts. Start by translating things that you read and see, until the point when you are ready to do the actual thing. Once you feel like you are ready, you can start working on your direct thinking.

5. Write in a Journal

Journaling is an excellent way to keep track of your thoughts, not only a way to take notes. Make a separate journal for your language thinking, and start a habit of writing down the things that you thought during the day.

This is basically another way to practice the skill. You may find it to be a bit slower, but you will be grateful for your journal keeping when you want to see the progress of your thoughts or glaze over the things you already considered.

In addition to this, writing in a journal is also advantageous in the sense that you can discuss your thoughts with others without being disrupted in the actual process. Your journal writing will be a daily monologue, but this does not mean that you cannot get feedback and corrections on your writing afterwards.

6. Read as Often as You Can

Reading is a step you shouldn’t miss when learning another language. When you read books in the target language, this will not only improve your vocabulary but also give you a sense of belonging in the author’s culture.

Obviously, reading someone else’s ideas and writing is not ‘direct thinking in a foreign language’, but the actual reading process has many more benefits than you think. When it comes to thinking in a foreign language, reading allows you to build ideas for further thinking, improve your vocabulary and fluency, and even create imaginary alternatives to those the author has chosen in his/her writing.

7. Describe Your Environment

Cannot come up with ideas of WHAT to think about? Luckily, there is no rule as to what topic is best to think about in your mind, which gives you the liberty to improvise.

When you cannot think of anything to think about in a foreign language, start describing the things around you.

That’s it! You now know the seven key steps to learning how to think in a foreign language. Once you implement these into your daily routine, you will notice rapid and amazing changes in your language learning.

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