How to Start Thinking in a Language You Are Mastering

by Sophia Anderson

Can you recognize the moment when you realize you've mastered a foreign language? It's not when you get a perfect score on a grammar test. It's not when you catch yourself being relaxed in a conversation with a native. It's when you start thinking in that language!

It takes a great deal of effort to learn the grammar rules of a foreign language and start speaking it fluently. It takes even more hard work for your inner thoughts to start flowing in a language that's not native. However, it's important to achieve that goal because it's the ultimate milestone on your language learning journey. It shows you're confident to start using that language in daily communication.

Instead of translating everything you hear in your own head, thinking of a response in your native language and then translating it to the foreign language before you speak up, you'll finally be able to communicate effortlessly.

Why Is It so Hard to Think in a Non-Native Language?

Every language learner understands it's hard to translate every single sentence in their minds before speaking up. Still, it seems like they cannot function without that inner struggle. There are several reasons that make thinking in a foreign language difficult:

Regardless of the obstacles you're facing, there's something you should understand: the effort eventually pays off.

Steps towards the Goal: Tips that Help You Start Thinking in a Foreign Language

We are presenting 10 actionable tips that will help you achieve the goal. Practice them on a daily basis and you'll catch yourself thinking in a foreign language at one point or another.

1. Stop the Translating Habit

That's the inevitable starting point. Don't try to say something after thinking of a sentence word by word in your own language, and then translating it into foreign words. First of all, this practice is ineffective because the logical flow of words in your native though won't sound well in a foreign language.

When you're thinking of something to say, start with the main elements of the sentence: the subject and the verb. Then, it will be easy for you to build the structure upon that foundation.

2. Learn Words in Pairs

Have you noticed that a foreign language is usually taught through logical texts and stories? There's a reason behind that practice: it's easier to learn the words when you add them into context, and you connect them with one another. If, for example, you're learning the word morning in a foreign language, you should also look up for words that go with it, such as good or early. You should also pair it with the opposites and check out some synonyms. That's the best strategy for getting a huge vocabulary boost from a single lesson.

3. Pay Attention to Grammar

Vocabulary is very important when you're learning a foreign language, but that doesn't mean you should forget all about the grammar rules. You can't start thinking in a non-native language if you haven't mastered its grammar basics. Make sure to put the rules you learn into practice every single day, and keep track of your progress. Don't try to cram those rules and do lots of exercises, which will definitely make you feel bored, but rather employ in your speech.

4. Use a Descriptive Dictionary

Instead of using a dictionary that translates the words into your native language, find a descriptive dictionary, which gives you interpretations and helps you understand the words from context. You'll notice it's much easier to memorize the words you've learned with this method.

5. Learn Idioms and Phrases

It's the nuances that make you a natural foreign language speaker. Learn many idioms and phrases and try to infuse them in the way you talk and think. You'll identify such phrases in the online articles you read, so make sure to write them down and use them.

6. Use Smartphone Apps in the Language You Want to Master

Yes, there are awesome language-learning apps, such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, but that's not where the potential of your smartphone stops. Use the foreign language when you're taking notes in Evernote, or you're filling in the calendar with daily to-do tasks. This strategy will help you start using the language for daily activities, and you'll soon catch some thoughts in it.

7. Communicate with Native Speakers

When you're relaxed in a friendly conversation, your thoughts will flow and you'll stop torturing yourself with the mental process of translating. That's why you should connect with as many natives as possible. If you can't travel to the country of your interest, the least you could do is start making connections through social media. You can become part of Facebook group for language learners; they will give you motivation to practice speaking with natives.

8. Give Names to Everything Around You

When you're observing the things that surround you, name them in the language you're learning. “This is a TV, now I'm going to turn it on.” “Oh, there's my friend Robert, who's a doctor.” Think random things like these in the foreign language; even you have to force those thoughts into your head. With time, they will start flowing naturally.

9. Practice Writing

A writing practice will help you keep track of your progress, but it will also help you remember the things you've learned. Try to notice and fix the mistakes in your writing. Make sure to preserve proper grammar. This practice will make you a more confident speaker, but it will also help you start thinking in a foreign language.

10. Practice Speaking and Listening!

That's the ultimate tip that leads you to perfection. Turn speaking and listening into a daily activity. You can listen to audiobooks in the foreign language, and then talk to someone about the impressions. If you don't have anyone to talk to, just get in an empty room, record your speech and listen to it. You'll surely recognize the subtle signs of progress.

Learning a foreign language is a complex journey, which demands focus on the small things, including thoughts! Try including the above-listed tips in your practice, and you'll soon notice great progress in your skills. You'll become confident enough to talk like a native.

About the writer

Sophia Anderson is an enthusiastic language tutor from Australia and also a freelance writer at She believes that learning something new every day is a must. Her inspiration comes from reading books and online blog posts which cover a wide range of her interests.


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