Guest Post_Rachel BarteeI am delighted to introduce you to a fellow English trainer and writer. Rachel Bartee approached me a few weeks ago and asked if she could contribute to my blog. She wanted to share 10 effective strategies on how you as learners of English could practise to start thinking in English. This is something that many language learners aspire to and naturally, I am thrilled to have Rachel write for us. A quick note, Rachel is from the United States so her spelling is American spelling which is different from mine. For example, the word “practice” as a noun and verb is spelled the same in American English. In British English, “practice” is the noun and “practise”is the verb.

So without further ado, let me pass you over to Rachel. 

When you start thinking in a foreign language, that’s when you can say you’ve mastered it. It seems like everyone knows that, but we can’t simply force our thoughts to flow in a different language, can we? It takes a lot of effort and practice to start speaking a foreign language fluently. Thinking fluently takes even more hard work. Still, it’s important to strive for that goal because it’s the ultimate achievement that proves you’ve mastered the language and you’re confident to use it in daily communication.

Thinking in English is an advanced point on the path to becoming a fluent speaker. When you become able to connect logical thoughts in English in your mind, the words just flow without effort. You easily communicate with your business partners without the need to “translate” everything they say and you say in your head before speaking up.

Why You Find it Hard to Think in a Second Language

As a language learner you will probably say that it’s almost impossible to go without translating what someone else has said into your native language and then thinking of an answer and translating it back to English. Every time you go through this multiple-stage process the confusion on your face speaks for itself. Your interlocutor waits patiently for you to carry out these internal operations and it can cause frustration on both sides.

The question is: why are you going through all this trouble? There may be a few reasons for that:

  • You are used to thinking in your own language. It’s as simple as that.
  • The learning process starts with translating. There’s no other way for foreigners to learn English: you have to explain to yourself what the words mean, so you are translating them into your native language to understand them.
  • The lack of vocabulary can make the thinking process difficult. That’s why it’s easier for you to use the “translation technique” before speaking up.

How to Practice Thinking in English

If you search the web for some tips to help you start thinking in a foreign language, you’ll come across plenty of strategies. Some of them are really effective, but others fail miserably in practice. I have selected the ones I think work.

Check out these strategies and try them:

  1. Learn the grammar rules in context and put them to practice in your speech. To start thinking in a second language, you need mainly the basic ones mastered almost to perfection. Forget about translating the sentence word for word from your native language. Start your sentences with the simplest elements: the subject and the verb. Then, build the sentence from that base and you won’t go wrong.
  1. Learn vocabulary in pairs, not separately, through logical texts and stories: they give structure to the words and they help you connect one word with another. When you learn the word beneficial, you should also look up words and phrases that go along with it. That’s the easiest way to remember a great deal of words from a single lesson.
  1. When you’re listening to native English speakers talk, you’ll notice expressions and phrases that you like and would like to remember and reuse. Write them down and use them in your own sentences. You can also identify specific phrases in the texts you read, so make sure to make a note of them too.
  1. Practice! You can’t start thinking in a second language if you don’t practice speaking and listening. Turn this into a daily activity: talk to your friends or colleagues in English. Ideally, you should practice every day. If you have no one to talk to, you can use your phone to record your speech and listen to it.
  1. Use an English-only dictionary, such as the Oxford English dictionary. Instead of using a bilingual dictionary that translates the terms to your own language, you’ll get descriptions in English and you’ll understand the words from the context. You’ll notice you can remember the words more easily through this method.
  1. Observe the things around you and name them while thinking in English. “Mary arrived from abroad two hours ago.” “Now I’m going to start writing this business report.” When you catch yourself not knowing how to say something, remember the confusion. When you get some time on your hands, look for the word in your dictionary and write it down.
  1. Practice writing. It’s important to get your thoughts in writing; that’s how you give them shape and you notice the mistakes. Take a separate notebook and write simple sentences every day. Try to maintain the correct grammar.
  1. When you don’t know a word in English, try to give an explanation (paraphrase) instead. For example, let’s say you don’t know what the English word for notebook You can explain what that is by saying “an empty book we use for writing.” Use pattern structures, such as “This is a person who…” or “This is an object we use when…” to explain something you don’t know the word in English.
  1. Talk to native speakers as much as possible. When you establish a friendly connection, the conversation will flow and you won’t torture yourself with mental translating. You’ll be thinking in English before you know it. Social media can help you connect with native speakers. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, then hire a professional tutor. They will help you practice a lot.
  1. Use smartphone apps for short-time activities. There are awesome language-learning apps, but don’t stop there. Use a calendar, note-taking app, dictionary, and every other app you can think of with the English-based interface. These activities will help you learn random words effortlessly.

When you’re trying to learn a complex skill, such as thinking in English, you need to focus on small, precise steps that will guide you to the goal. Try practicing using the tips above and keep track of the progress you make. With time, you’ll catch yourself making mental remarks in English. Then you can congratulate yourself because you’ll finally be confident and be a fluent and natural speaker of English!


About Author: Rachel Bartee is a devoted teacher and a freelance writer at EduGeeksClub. She would prefer to go without her lunch just to make her thoughts into worthy writings. She is inspired by her morning yoga and creative writing classes she is currently attending. Follow her at Facebook and Twitter.


Thank you very much, Rachel for your contribution.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this post and do share it with your colleagues and friends if you think they’d find it helpful. And don’t forget to subscribe and download my FREE Guide to better communication at work with English. (see below)

Ciao for now.