4 Helpful Strategies to Help You Think in English

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Your English teacher may have said that you must practice thinking in English to improve your fluency. This is true. If you learn to think in English, you’ll become a more confident English speaker because you’ll speak more naturally and with less hesitation. But, you may insist that you need to think in your native language to translate. When you constantly translate in your head, this will be a long road to fluency because the sentence structures are different in your language. It will take you a long time to say what you need to say because you are translating in your head as you speak.

Here are four strategies that will help in training your brain to think in English.

STEP 1. Start with elementary vocabulary

When you’re walking down the street, think of English words for the things that you see: trees, flowers, sky, and stone. When you’re on a train or bus, look out the window and think of the English words for anything you see: car, road, traffic, and people.

So, you must close your eyes, take a deep breath, focus, and when you open your eyes, you will think in English. ONLY in English, not in your native language. Whether it was easy or hard, it’s okay. You need to practice every day, do the same thing every day, even just for a few minutes. It will become easier as you go.

STEP 2. Think in simple sentences

For this exercise, you need to look around you and make four simple sentences about what you see. Do it in English only and NO translating. You can’t think in your native language either. Again, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and when you open your eyes, you begin making simple sentences.

For example, “Those flowers really look lovely”.

“The man is eating miso soap.”

“That lady has lovely hair.”

“I like the color of this table.”

If this exercise is difficult, you can always go back to Step 1, practice simple English words. However, if this was easy for you, you are ready to step up to the next level.

STEP 3.  Plan your day in English

When you wake up in the morning while lying in bed, try to think about everything that you need to do that day—in English only. So, you can think, “After I shower, I will drive to work.”

“On the way to work, I will grab a coffee and a sandwich at the cafe.”

“I will meet Atsuko for lunch, we will order take-out meals, and eat at the park.”

“I just hope it does not rain today.”

When ‘thinking simple English sentences’ and ‘planning your day in English’ becomes easy, you can move on to the next exercise.

STEP 4. Think in conversation

This is great when you’re hiking up a mountain or relaxing at the park, and you have plenty of “alone time”. This exercise will allow you to ask questions and think of the answers to those questions. You will also think of ways to keep the conversation going with yourself. If this is too silly for you, then think of a friend and “invite” him in your head so that you have somebody to talk to. So, when you ask the questions, you can then pretend to be your friend for a minute and give the answer. For example,

You: Isn’t this a windy day?

Your Friend: Indeed it is. When my family went to Hawaii, it was a very windy day when we had our tour.

Practicing this skill, and doing it regularly, will train your brain to think in English wherever you are. It’ll be more effective if you find a time in your day where you always do this. Work on it every day. Only you can make it happen.

So when it comes to speaking in English, it will flow naturally because you’re no longer constantly translating in your head. Instead, you’re thinking in English, and when you speak, you no longer hesitate.

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I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.