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How to Develop Your Ability to THINK in English

Think in English

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We all speak our native languages fluently, quite naturally. The speech formation happens instantaneously and we don’t actually differentiate between a number of subsequent processes taking place when we speak.

If I asked you to draw a simple scheme of a speech process when you speak your native language, you’d probably come up with something like this:

English Speech Process

By and large it’s quite correct – we think in our native language and after a short while we produce speech in the process. If you think that it’s not true and you’re capable of producing speech at the exact time of thinking – read this article. You’ll find out that it actually takes 600 milliseconds for our speech producing organs to catch up with our brain! It’s not a huge lag, and in real life we all have an impression we can think out loud.

Anyway, the scheme above represents what goes on when you say something in your native language, and thinking and speaking are two separate processes. But now comes the tricky part of the process. I think that we’re missing a link right before the thinking stage…

Are you slightly confused? Are you thinking “What is Robby talking about? What other process takes place in my brain before I think? Surely thinking comes first and everything else follows it!”

Well, I haven’t got any proof that my theory is correct, but I believe that an ABSTRACT CONCEPT comes first ❗

It’s not verbalized. It’s an idea. It’s something that you kind of FEEL even before you start having actual thoughts in your language. It’s not easy to explain, but I’ll try to provide an example so that can understand what exactly I mean by this abstract concept.

You have to picture the following scene. You’re waking up in the morning. You open your eyes. You’re feeling unwell – you’ve sore throat, blocked nose and a fever, too. Now try to focus on this feeling and tell me – isn’t there an abstract concept of taking a sick day forming in your mind even BEFORE you have the conscious thought “I have to ring in sick…”? Isn’t there? That sort of a feeling, awareness if you like, that isn’t verbalized YET, but you just KNOW that it’s there?

Maybe I sound mad, but I strongly believe that everything begins with an abstract concept. Our thoughts. Our plans. Our daily activities. They all begin as abstract, vague ideas hovering in our minds and they have the potential of being transformed into thoughts and then spoken out:

English Speech Process

I might even take this concept a step further and claim that at any given time we all have at least one or more dormant abstract concepts present in our minds. I think it takes some stimuli to awaken them and initiate active thinking process when you can actually make out words floating around your mind.

I won’t, however, elaborate on the above concept in this blog post – instead let’s get straight to the point and look at the biggest mistake made by foreign English speakers:

English Speech Process

For a number of reasons English learners and even quite advanced English speakers assume that once you speak a foreign language, the translation stage is inevitable. It’s being made our second nature in school English studies by using bilingual dictionaries and memorizing new vocabulary as a direct translation from our native language into English. We also encounter the translation process on a regular basis – movie subtitles, manuals that come in multiple languages, Google translation tool… It all adds to the general consensus that the translation stage between languages can’t be avoided and you become convinced that once you speak your own language you need to translate to speak in English.

But what if you could eliminate the translation process? Wouldn’t it speed up your English speech, for example?

Just think about it for a second. If it takes your mouth more than half a second to produce speech following a thought in your brain, what about the extra time you spend translating the thought from your native language into English? It definitely adds more time to the whole process and the resulting speech is often slow, hesitant, and it’s easy to get stuck for words if you keep translating from your native tongue into English in your head.

By the way, these symptoms characterize the typical English fluency issue and translating in one’s mind from native language to English is a definite no-no if you want to be fluent!

But here’s the key to improving your spoken English and approaching near-native English fluency – and I think you’ll be a bit surprised reading this…

Stop Thinking in Your Mother’s Tongue!

Yes, you need to eliminate the translation link, but you also need to eradicate the very process of thinking in your native language!

If you already think English – fair enough, you’ve mastered the skill and you can skip the rest of this article.

If you still keep having two “layers” of thoughts in your mind – your native language AND English – then keep reading, this is for you!

So, what you basically need to do is the following – you need to learn to verbalize the ABSTRACT CONCEPTS into English. You need to make your speech process look like this:

English Speech Process

First you have the abstract concepts and images floating in your mind. Then comes thinking process in the language you speak, and then you produce the actual speech. Once you do away with the translation between your native language and English, your speech becomes more fluent and automatic. It’s of course easier said than done, so here’s a really good piece of advice on how to achieve the state of mind when you’re able to think in English without getting your mother’s tongue involved.

YOU HAVE TO GET INTO HABBIT OF SPEAKING IN A CONTROLLED, STEADY MANNER!

Remember when we analyzed the speech process in the very beginning? You probably didn’t realize prior to it that our thinking process and speech are two separate processes because they’re so closely bound, right?

Well, you see – now you can use this fact to you advantage and make your brain THINK in English by SPEAKING English. The speech process is so closely bound to your thoughts that it will make it quite hard for you to think in your native language when you have a steady and controlled speech going on.

If you try to speak too fast though, you can lose the concentration and your native language words can start mixing in ❗

I’m not saying it won’t happen AT ALL when you speak in that slow and controlled manner. But it won’t be as bad as when you try to match a native English speaker in terms of speed and have English thoughts mixing with your native language in your head.

So your perfect English speech process follows this pattern – an abstract concept – thinking in English – speech. Well, in reality all you’ll feel is the speech because the feedback between your mind and mouth is nearly instantaneous. However, it is necessary for you to understand the very nitty-gritty of the speech process so that you can accept that it is possible to stop translating from your native language when speaking English.

Once you’ve grasped the very concept of abstract ideas being as the primary source of “content” for your brain to “feed” on (not thoughts in your native language as you might have assumed previously), you’ll find it much easier to eliminate the translation link from the English speech process equation.

I guess it’s going to take some time for you to master thinking in English because you’ve been speaking your native language for as long as you remember yourself, so the very thinking process inevitably associates with mother’s tongue. It’s kind of – “How can I stop thinking in my language, it’s so deeply ingrained in my brain that it’s impossible to start thinking in English!”

Well, as I said, the trick is to actually SPEAK English as often as you can. If you try to ONLY THINK in English – yes, you can mess up your mind even more (watch a video about it HERE!) because there’s no solid ‘stuff’ (like SPEECH) for your English thoughts to stick to. Once the speech process is engaged, however, it’s much easier to maintain clarity of your English thoughts as you wield more power over speech than your thoughts which can often take course on their own.

I can say it after my own experience over the years – constant English speaking practice will help you think English and gain spoken English fluency! You can even quietly speak with yourself in English when you’ve no-one to talk to instead of thinking something silently at yourself in your native language!

Robby

P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Yes, sure, if you’re a TOTAL beginner, you have to use translation; you can read more about it here: http://englishharmony.com/english-learning-for-beginners/

  • Thura

    But someone begins learning English speaking,he must use his native language or not how he can start to think about his activity materials emotions ideas.
    and then according to you he can chang from his mind to English language.

  • kavipriya

    I eager in learn spoken english

  • kavipriya

    Hello hi I haven’t Skype id. So pls contact to mail skavipriya1989@gmail.com

  • red1

    If there is anyone want to practice English please contact me on skype ID red1red1991

  • neha

    i want someone to improve my spoken english. my skype id is staringeagle …feel free to call at any time

  • jaganpole

    hi robby kukurs good morning i am Telugu student , i didn’t no English i am trubul in english so sapard english it is pasibul taking english ,speaking in english,please help me please .this my email;jaganpole204@gmail.com

  • Hi Rohit,

    First of all – I really appreciate you’ve been following my blog for a while and been putting my advice to use – I’m so glad to hear that!!!

    Speaking of my own English – it was that bad a while back, believe me! I’ve been in the same situation, I was struggling big time and at times I even thought I was having some sort of a mental issue. So what you’re going through isn’t something totally weird, it’s all part of your overall English improvement trend. ( read this article to understand more about it: http://englishharmony.com/english-improvement-trend/ ).

    I know it’s hard to believe it at the moment, but you’re going to get out of it eventually; and it will most likely happen by itself. It used to happen to me all the time – one day I wouldn’t be able to speak at all, the next day I’d wake up and I’d be speaking perfectly.

    Why it happens?

    I don’t know. It just happens. Everything in nature goes through circles and all human related performance is changing over time; nothing stays the same. So I’d say you should start by ACCEPTING that it’s going to happen and find some comfort and consolation in that fact. It’s kind of having this attitude – “If I can’t do anything about it, why worry?”

    Of course it’s not that you can’t do anything, but it’s just to give the overall idea of how the art of ignorance should be implemented in order to help you become more confident; read more about it here: http://englishharmony.com/ignorance/

    Next up – self-practice.

    Now, you can’t stop doing that. You have to keep on speaking because it’s crucial for your fluency development. Now you may feel you’ve lost all you’ve gained, but nothing could be actually further from the truth! It’s all actually being ‘processed’ by your brain at a subconscious level, so it’s important to keep engaging in spoken practice so that you maintain constant improvement (even though you might think you’re not improving anything!).

    Do you find self-practice boring because you’re running out of topics to talk about? Please watch this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIY3VaRiYrE ; it might help because I addressed a similar question in it.

    Bottom line is:

    Keep practicing your spoken English.
    Learn to accept the fact that such fluctuations will happen, but also realize that you can manage them; please read these articles to learn how: http://englishharmony.com/get-involved-when-speaking-english/ http://englishharmony.com/english-fluency-management/

    Learn to ignore your own frustration and find comfort in the fact that you know you’ll improve your English over time.

    Also – you may abstain from any English related activities for short periods of time, it may also be that your brain is just overloaded! Read this article to find out more about it: http://englishharmony.com/increase-english-fluency/

    Hope this all helps,

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Rohit ( India )

    Hi, I have been reading through your website for few months now…I find it really useful and I have tried few of the methods which you have mentioned over here…I have also seen some of your videos posted over in youtube…I tried most of the things which you have mentioned…at one point I started feeling that I have gotten over English language and in most of the places in normal conversation as well as in formal speech I could speak comfortably ..but off late I have started feeling that my fluency has gone down again….and now I feel like I don’t have many words to speak…I take long pauses and speak up incoherently ..I don’t understand what went wrong……..any suggestions from you??…I try speaking up in my room when I am alone…but now I dont feel that zeal to speak up and practice and due to that I seem to have to lost what all I gained in last 3 months…in fact talking about stuff which you normally do also kind of disinterest me and I feel like I am repeating all things again and again…Kindly suggest something for this…Also please tell…were your English too bad when you started it off earlier or you were always little bit aware about English language…and you could speak during most of the conversations…Thanks..

  • Michael

    I’m conducting some polls on important issues of mastering various aspects of English as a second and a foreign language.

    Do you agree with the allegations below? I’d appreciate your response.

    Differences
    between one’s native language and English in pronunciation, grammar,
    vocabulary and
    stylistic usage should not be ignored by foreign learners living and
    learning English in non-English speaking countries to master English
    thoroughly. When learning and using English foreign learners cannot but
    notice those differences between English and their native language.
    Knowledge of those differences by foreign learners of English is
    essential for understanding correct forms, meaning and use of English
    grammar and for vocabulary usage to reduce making mistakes in English as
    much as possible, especially in fine tricky points of English grammar,
    vocabulary and stylistic usage. Native language interference when
    learning and using English by foreign learners is a natural thing
    equally as translation is a natural language activity in human
    communication. Therefore native language interference when learning and
    using English cannot be prevented or eliminated until English has been
    mastered by foreign learners as good as their native language. Knowledge
    of phonetic, grammatical, lexical and stylistic differences between
    English and one’s native language weakens natural native language
    interference when learning and using English.

  • No problem, and I really appreciate you recommended this article to your friend! Thanks, and keep checking my blog for new weekly articles and videos!

  • I’m a Latvian living in Ireland for 10 years now. Yes, initially I tried to match natives in terms of their speech speed, pronunciation etc; then I realized it’s not necessary if you want to be fluent. You have to accept your limitations, find consolation in the fact that your English is YOURS, it’s UNIQUE, and go from there!

    If you stick with:

    * not translating from/to your native language;
    * a lot of spoken English practice;
    * acquiring new vocabulary in context;
    * not freaking out over your mistakes but learning from them instead,

    then I can’t see why any foreigner couldn’t attain fluency in the English language!

  • Innaxpor

    Explicit and comprehensive explanation. I’ve suggested your article to friend of mine. It’s good to know that there are people like you out there who try to help others. Well done and keep it up! Cheers mate.

  • harsh

    robby, i liked your videos as u said that u r tried to imitate native speakers and tried to speak fast so which country are u from,actually i face this problem also but i think ur content is o great help.

  • Hi Sasa,

    I know exactly the type of a feeling you’re talking about, and there’s one one remedy – speak slower. 

    It’s been happening to me millions of times in the past (and of course would sometimes happen even now), and I always find that slowing your speech down helps.

    Fluency doesn’t equal fast speech; it’s a very popular misconception yet it’s very difficult to get rid of…

  • Sasa Milosevic

    Thank you.

    I am journalist and I always try to speak fast, on level of my advanced or proficency colleagues. It i not  easy. Sometime I feel as I cannot construct the sentence; as my brain proceess is collapsed; as I fell blockage; as I am tired.

    Sometime I am wondering when my colleague say: ” That is O.K, it sounds O.K, or good,  but I fell as it is not O.K or it is my false feeling.  I feel unpleasant when  I have to repeat something. You know, it is not good feeling knowing that someone didn’t understand you.

     

  • Thanks, I’m glad you like it!

  • Ahmed Said

    I really liked this post andthis is excellent!

  • Well, I’m not really sure what you mean by “the way of thinking”. I’m giving enough information in this blog post to make it clear that the two most important things in order to start thinking in English are: 1) eradication of translation between the native language and English; 2) frequent speaking practice; it’s not sufficient only to think English in your mind, one has to accompany the process with speech.nnAnd if you’re lucky enough to know how to think in any language effortlessly, you probably don’t have any English fluency issues this blog is dedicated for. Good for you! 😉

  • Liveman35

    all what you said is right but still the question of how to think in English is ambiguous,you didn’t mention they way of thinking which is the most important thing. For me, I know how to think in any language even if i didn’t learn it beforeu00a0

  • You’re completely right and that’s also one of the main points in this article. When you don’t speak, there’s more effort required to maintain English thoughts in your head, so speaking is definitely the way to go to “hard-wire” English in your head!

  • Umer

    Can u explain it in other words. I also agree with what ur saying. Think in both languages and speak in both too. But mostly in english.

  • Umer

    Once the speech process is engaged, however, itu2019s much easier to maintain clarity of your English thoughts as you wield more power over speech than your thoughts

  • Sure, don’t hesitate to post here about your findings! I’m pretty sure thought, you’ll conclude that speaking does help a lot indeed.

  • I’ll put this theory to test shortly; in a month or so I’ll have decent feedback on whether speaking helps that much.

  • Thanks for the comment Yuri – I wish I’d written your last paragraph in my blog post. You nailed it! 😉

  • Robby, what you’re saying is all true.nnWhen you start thinking in some language, it means you’re doing conscious thinking or u201cthink about thinkingu201d, whereas in u201cnormal modeu201d you don’t think in words as such, you think in concepts.nnLanguage is a skill which one can master to speak without thinking, as if using a tool. Thinking consciously and translating to another language before uttering anything results in hesitant and wrong speech. You don’t need to think about breathing to breathe!nnSo you’re absolutely correct that in order to speak fluently you have to speak as much as possible. Brain gets used to muscle movements, and words are hardwired not through words of one’s native language, but through thought concepts and muscle movements, just as one’s native language is hardwired in the brain.nnThanks for a great post 🙂