This is every ESL students dream, and one of the most important steps in learning a new language. To think in that language means you have really ‘got it’. But how can you start training your brain to do this? Let’s first look at some scientific facts. Research has shown that in fact no one ‘thinks in a language’, they ‘think in ideas’, and ideas are the same everywhere. So that means all of us are starting from the same place, no matter where in the world we come from, inside our heads, it’s all the same. Phew, that’s a relief…. Secondly what thinking in a language really means is ‘communicating your idea verbally into a spoken language’, and usually the spoken language of choice is your own native language. That’s understandable. But the third and most important thing is to understand that when we are coming up with an idea then using our first language then translating that first language into English we are using a very long process to come up with what we mean to communicate. So really all we are trying to do here is to cut out that ‘translating’ stage and jump straight from the idea to English. This is where we begin. All these points below are going to help you to cut as much of your own language out of your daily life and replace it with English. The reason for this is that if you read, speak, write and listen in English, the training of the brain picks this up and locks it into a pattern of thinking and making links between the words with the meanings. Students can do these things:
1. Make a point of not speaking your own language for periods of time. Start with just in class, then move onto at least another hour after that. Gradually let the time build up over time. Before you know it you may have an entire day or week when you can’t remember the last time you spoke your own language. To do this of course you need to fill your day with activities that won’t tempt you into speaking your language, like making a friend with another language.
2. Throw away your ‘English-Arabic’ dictionary. These are just going to keep you going back to Arabic all the time. Buy yourself an English-English dictionary and move from there.
3. Use actions as much as possible to build the connection between the idea and the English word. When we are a child and are learning to speak, this is exactly what we do, we make connections between actions, ideas and thoughts to words. The ESL learner does this too, only a lot faster. The more you can make these connections the easier it will be for your brain to make the link to English.
4. Make your learning a language experience based. Don’t learn vocabulary or sentences in isolation, the best thing to do is to have ‘an experience’ and then learn from this experience all the new words and sentences that went with this activity. In this way the memory of your experience will be what is implanted in your brain, not necessarily the words, and as a result when that memory comes up, so will the words and phrases that are attached to it.
5. Make your learning visual. Again learning about something needs to come with a visual context. This way your see the image and together with that are the images of the words. This makes the link very easy.
6. Try to ensure you are taught by a native English speaker. This is not always possible, but if you are lucky and find someone who doesn’t speak your language, you are forced to make that jump into thinking in English. They will never understand you when you speak in your language and neither do they want to.
7. Learn chunking answers. This is simple, when someone says “How are you?”, you already know the answer “Fine thanks.” Why do you know this answer?, Why do you never have to translate this sentence into your language and then translate your answer back? Because you have learned it with the question. Remembering a group of words together is called called ‘chunking’. The same goes for lists. Remember all of the list together, e.g. food words, education words, action words, etc. e.g. go swimming, listen to music, eat fish.
So there you have it. Thinking in English really just means getting out of your local language social circle and pushing yourself. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. And one day you will wake up and think ‘Wow what a wonderful morning, I can’t remember the last time I thought in my own language…..”! (Using those exact words!) So what do you think? How long do you think it takes to start to think in English?
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- Quick Tip, thinking in English
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