Many English teachers tell their students to think in English – but the students say:
“It’s too difficult!
“I don’t know enough English words!”
“I have to think in my native language and translate.”
Even advanced students often translate in their heads when speaking English – they just do it very fast! However, if you can develop the habit of thinking in English, this will help you speak more easily and fluently. You can start thinking in English even if you are a beginner.
Thinking in English brings several benefits to your English speaking:
- You will be able to respond faster
- Your sentences will sound more natural
- You won’t get “stuck” as often when you don’t know a vocabulary word
Here are four levels of thinking in English that can help you:
Level 1 – Thinking in individual English words
On this level, you think of the individual English words for the things you see and do in daily life.
For example, when you wake up, you can think of these English words:
Then when you go to work, you can think of these English words:
During your day, continue to think of the individual English words for everything you see, hear, and do. Try this exercise – look around you right now and think of all the English words you can. I’d imagine you can say at least 10 English words!
Level 2 – Thinking in complete English sentences
On this level, you think in complete sentences during the day.
When you are at lunch, you can think:
- I am eating a sandwich.
- I’m drinking soda.
- My friend is drinking coffee.
- This restaurant is good.
If you are watching TV, you can think:
- This is an interesting program.
- That actress is very beautiful.
- The journalist has black hair.
- She’s talking about today’s news.
It’s OK if the sentences are very simple. The most important part is to practice thinking in English and practice forming complete sentences.
Level 3 – Functional English
On this level, you imagine having to use English for everything that you would normally say during the day. After every time you say something in your native language, try to think of how you would say it if you were speaking English. For example, how would you buy a train ticket or order a drink if you were in an English-speaking country?
- Can I have a bottle of water, please?
- Two tickets to the Central Station.
- Please shut the window; it’s cold in here.
- Hi Jim. How was your weekend?
- Did you do the homework? I thought it was difficult.
- I didn’t know about the meeting this afternoon.
This will help you get used to using English in real-life situations – even though you are only thinking and not speaking. It is “mental practice” and if you do this consistently, you will develop the ability to do almost anything you need in English.
Level 4 – Narrative English
This technique works well if you have some time – for example, if you are waiting in line, riding public transportation, or walking some distance. Think of a memory from your past or a funny story that you would like to tell to an English-speaking friend. Then, “tell the story” in English in your head:
- Last Friday, I was really tired after a long week – I had worked overtime almost every day. So I called my best friend and asked if she wanted to hang out with me and relax at my favorite cafe. We met outside the cafe at around 8 PM, but it was extremely crowded because there was a local band giving a show in the cafe that night. “Let’s go to my favorite bar instead,” said my friend. We took the subway across town to her favorite bar, but as soon as we walked in the door, we discovered that the music was extremely loud – not a relaxing place at all. We walked down the street to a restaurant – but it was full of people and we would have to wait 40 minutes for a table. By this time it was almost 11 and I was exhausted – so I ended up just taking a taxi home. So much for a relaxing evening!
Because you are having a conversation with an “imaginary” English-speaking friend, you can take your time to create better sentences and use all your vocabulary without the pressure of a real conversation.
Thinking in English? You can do it!
I hope you can see that you don’t need to be an advanced English learner to think in English – you can begin today. Try one of these four levels this week. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!