How to Think in English: 7 Ways to Change Your Inner Language
What did you have for breakfast?
It’s a fairly simple question, but chances are that you had to translate it into your native language and then back to English before you could answer it.
This takes a lot of time and effort, and can really slow you down when you’re trying to have a fluent conversation!
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could think in English as you speak, without hesitating?
This means there would be no time spent translating your words before you speak. You would simply speak your thoughts as they occur to you – in English!
There are plenty of benefits to thinking in English:
- Improved language proficiency
- Faster communication
- Enhanced fluency
- Better writing skills
- Greater comfort with the language
- And cognitive flexibility, to name a few.
And being able to think in English is also one of the hallmarks of fluency. That being said – HOW do you do it?
Today I’ll share seven different ways to change your inner language so that you can increase your fluency and speak confidently, FAST.
If you KNOW a lot of English, but struggle to SPEAK...Learn More about Fluent for Life
1. Don’t Force Yourself to Speak
Traditional language learning methods will tell you to speak in English as soon as possible because that is the only way to develop fluency. This is wrong, and it’s not even how we learn our native language!
When you learn English as a second language (ESL), many programs focus on building a large vocabulary as quickly as possible, and on forcing you to speak before you really feel comfortable.
Yet this approach only gives you a passive, surface-level understanding of the words, instead of a deep understanding that results in confidence and certainty. And when you feel certain, you speak!
So, rather than only focusing on speaking (output), it’s important to prioritize listening (input) to understandable messages.
According to linguist Dr. Stephen Krashen, the only thing that counts when it comes to achieving fluency is being exposed to messages you understand.
You need the right input instead of forcing yourself to speak using a list of words you’ve memorized.
As you become comfortable, words will naturally flow from your mouth automatically.
2. Learn Words in Varied Contexts
When you begin building your English brain – that is, thinking in English – you need to learn how to use individual words, not only their definitions.
This is so important because what natives do when they speak is begin with situations. Basically, they think of an idea, and then think of the words they might use. The interesting thing for natives is they know MANY ways of expressing things, so they can easily think of something to say.
But learning words by translating them into your native language – like most adult English learners – focuses on giving you a SINGLE definition or response. And this stops you from speaking when you forget this one response. So you get stuck in conversations and have trouble becoming truly fluent.
Think about how you learned your native language as a child. You did it by observing the world around you and associating situations with many words and phrases.
This is how native English speakers make strong connections with vocabulary in many contexts, all in English. So they understand words and grammar deeply, and use the English language easily.
If you’re not sure where to start, begin connecting individual words with situations (instead of translations) with an app called Frederick. When using the app, you’ll come to understand new words and phrases the same way natives do – as well as the correct spelling, pronunciation and context in which to use them!
3. Use Phrases in the Right Context
Just like with individual words, it’s essential to deeply understand the context of a situation before you use English phrases.
Understanding the context will help build your English brain and find the English words most appropriate for that situation.
Imagine having a conversation with yourself in English. It can be about anything! Practice connecting phrases with situations, not their translations into your native language.
Here is a conversation you can practice with yourself:
“How are you feeling about your presentation today at work?”
“I’m a little nervous. It’s giving me butterflies in my stomach.”
You may have heard the English idiom “butterflies in my stomach” before, but were unsure of how to use it. With no context, it’s a phrase about eating flying insects! With context, you understand it means feeling nervous.
Imagine how your stomach might feel if there were hundreds of butterflies flying around inside of it! It might feel unsettled, like the way your stomach feels when you’re nervous.
By associating the feeling in context with the phrase, you’ll start using it naturally in conversation – without translating it in your head!
The interesting thing about this example is that when you begin with the context (the situation), you’ll also pay more attention to other ways of expressing the same ideas.
For example, you could also say, “My stomach is tied in knots.” This is another way of describing an uncomfortable feeling, and it can be used when you’re nervous, or even feeling sad.
The more you pay attention to situations, the more ways you’ll learn to respond quickly and easily!
4. Connect Whole Sentences With Situations
Imagine entering a bakery that smells warm and inviting and reminds you of home.
As you pay for your order of freshly baked bread, you tell the cashier, “The smell of fresh-baked bread reminded me of home, so I had to stop in and buy your bread.”
The smell of the bakery reminded you of your home and it made you feel a particular way. The experience, context, and deep understanding of each word in English became an expression of your thoughts entirely in English.
Translating that from your native language into English would be time-consuming, causing you to miss the opportunity to share that with the cashier. By building your English brain to speak in full sentences, you’ll be prepared to express yourself entirely in English!
Again, the more you think about individual words and phrases by situation (rather than through translations), the more you will connect longer sentences confidently and fluently.
5. Naturally Varied Review
The best way to learn to think in English is to continuously listen to different native speakers talking about the same topic.
This is one example of what I call Naturally Varied Review.
With this method of learning, you’ll gain DEPTH in words and phrases, and your ability to use your vocabulary will improve.
It’s not hard to do, either. You can do this on your own by:
- Picking a topic that interests you
- Finding three or more English YouTube videos that are made for native English speakers
- Actively listening to the vocabulary and phrases they use
It’s that simple – by exposing yourself to varied content about the same subject, you deepen your understanding, and pick up different words and phrases to describe the topic.
6. Surround Yourself With Different Native Speakers
There’s a saying that goes, “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.”
By surrounding yourself and spending more time with different native speakers, you gain depth of understanding just by being with them! This is another form of Naturally Varied Review, that can also significantly impact your listening skills, and the way you learn to think in English, because it exposes you to various accents, pronunciations, tones, and speech patterns.
7. Go Deep on Topics
You might be a subject matter expert in your field of work, but did you know that you can extend that desire to learn about various subjects to your understanding of English?
When you choose a topic to learn about (such as the topic you chose above for Naturally Varied Review), learn about it deeply.
When you deeply understand what a word, phrase, or topic means, you’ll understand the many different ways that it can be used in English, rather than just its translation!
I talked about this in-depth in a recent video I posted on YouTube.
Once you understand a topic in English deeply, you’ll be able to think about it in English deeply and bring that knowledge to the front of your mind when you want to speak.
Start Thinking In English and Become Fluent for Life
Each of these seven strategies will help you achieve fluency faster by helping you think in English the same way native speakers do.
By understanding words, phrases, and sentences in context, you’ll begin to deeply understand the way that English words can be used to express many different situations.
If you want to accelerate developing your English brain and fast-track your way to fluency, then sign up for my Fluent For Life course.
I created Fluent For Life for intermediate to advanced English learners who want to accelerate their path to fluency. It’s the only course that teaches English as a FIRST language, and guarantees fluency.