Stop Translating in Your Head & Learn to Think in English
Many Speak English Ambassadors have told me “When I speak English, I feel like I translate in my head. It makes me slow. I’m not spontaneous. I listen and by the time I translate to understand, the conversation continues, and I’m lost.”
This week’s lesson is going to help you stop translating in your head, so you can become more fluent more quickly.
Why do you translate in your head?
Here’s a quick explanation: Your native language is not English. If it was, you probably wouldn’t be watching this lesson.
So, in your brain, there are 2 (or more) languages. Think of these languages as muscles. Let’s say your native language is French. You’ve been exercising your the French muscle in your brain for decades. So it’s much stronger, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but without the Austrian accent.
But you’ve only been exercising your English muscle for a few years, and probably not consistently.
A trip to the USA here, a few meetings in English there, maybe emails in English a few times a day. So, the English muscle in your brain is a little like
Your English muscle has a lot less training than your French muscle. So you need to start working out your English muscle. Immerse yourself in English
To stop translating in your head, you need to get away from using your native language to understand and speak English. That means, immersion.
Not necessarily taking a month to go live in an English-speaking country. That’s not always feasible. But you can create your own immersion. Here’s how.
First, start using an English only dictionary when you need to find the definition of an English word. Maybe today, you use Google Translate, or WordReference to find translations.
Let’s stop that! Here’s a new tool for you: The Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary. It’s an English-English dictionary online.
This way, when you hear or see a new word in English, you can look for it in the monolingual dictionary. You’re learning how to describe a word in English, how to think about a new word in English, and you’re getting more exposure to English by reading the description.
That’s a little exercise for your English muscle!
Start Thinking in English
What if you want to practice English but you have no one to practice with? Start by thinking in English to yourself.
I can hear your hesitations now: “Yeah, but no one is there to correct me”!
That’s ok, honestly. You don’t have to use perfect grammar 100% of the time.
If you did, it wouldn’t sound very natural, actually. We native speakers mess up our own language so much!
It’s better to get the practice in English by thinking in English and making mistakes than to not think in English because you’re worried about mistakes.
While you’re thinking in English, if you’re not 100% sure about the language you use, make a note of it somewhere and check later. You can use a little language notebook. Or note it on your smartphone, send an email to yourself, whatever system you use to remind yourself of things to do.
Note questions you have about English. Literally write “What is the word for “une trousse”? And then look for the word later when you have time.
This also works well for when you’re watching movies, TV series or reading. Don’t try to note every new word, because that will take the fun out of it.
But if you hear or read the same word a lot of times, and you don’t know what it is, just take 30 seconds to note it somewhere and look for the definition later, preferably with your monolingual online dictionary.
Practice Speaking in English
The next step is to speak in English to practice…speaking. Yes, talk to yourself. Out loud. Preferably when you’re alone, but you can do it around other people. They might think you’re crazy, but hey, at least you’re doing something.
Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself. Describe the things around you, play little scenarios in your head, ask questions to yourself in your head. When I’m learning a language, this is my favorite technique.
Watch the video of this episode:
Practice speaking with a partner
Of course, the best thing is to practice with a speaking partner. And I make it easy for you to find a partner.
I’ve partnered with the website italki, where you can find a conversation partner with a simple search. I’ve used italki personally to find conversation partners to learn Italian and German, so I know that it’s a great resource. Italki is easy, convenient, and great for practicing speaking.
Just for the Speak English with Christina community, if you buy one conversation lesson, you get your 2nd lesson for free! Pretty cool, right?
Now what about you?
What other techniques or tools do you use to do English regularly?
Share them in the comments because it can really help other members of the Speak English community.
And if you get a practice partner with italki, come back and tell me how it’s helping you. I love to hear about your success in English, because your stories are so inspiring for me and the entire community!
More English lessons...
Click the image to see the lesson