One question learners often ask is, “How do I train myself to think in English?” This is a tricky question. Your brain naturally thinks in your native language. When you learn a new word or phrase, your brain translates the expression into your dominant language. However, when you immerse yourself in English, this “translation” slowly fades. This is why so many English learners advance quickly when they travel to English speaking countries. They start to hear and see more English words than they do words in their own language. Eventually their brains stop “translating” into their own language and start thinking in English.
One way to think in English is to talk to yourself in English. This “talking” does not have to be out loud. You can do it silently. Start with the 5 senses. Any time you catch yourself tasting, smelling, feeling, seeing, or hearing something new or interesting, try to think of your experience in English. Don’t worry too much about thinking in proper tenses. Just worry about your senses! Let your thoughts wander. Try to go beyond one word answers.
For example: A new bottle of dish soap. 1. How does it smell? It smells like blueberries. Apparently it offers aromatherapy while you wash dishes. I’m a bit skeptical. 2. How does it look? It’s in a tall, T-shaped bottle and it has a label on the front and back. It’s bright blue, similar to the colour of the ocean on a sunny day. I like the way it brightens up my white kitchen. I should get some curtains to match. 3. How does it taste? I’m not going to taste it, but some of these new soaps actually smell like they would taste good, especially the green apple kind. I hate when I can’t find my favourite kind at the store. The apple pie one was gross. There’s a vanilla one I like. 4. How does it feel? It’s more watery than the previous soap I used. Seems like I will need an extra squirt to get my dishes clean. The bubbles rinse off easily. 5. How does it sound? It’s a full bottle that squirts out silently, unlike the empty bottle that squeaked every time I squished it and needed to be held upside down for a while.
If you can’t think of a certain word or description in English, use a dictionary or ask an English friend or teacher to help you pinpoint the correct expression.
Try this “think in senses” exercise with things that you do every day, such as:
brushing your teeth
commuting to school or work
Watch Tales from America where English learners describe the challenges of thinking in English.