Language Learning: Thinking in another language

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Anne, Aug 21, 2006.

  1. Anne Senior Member

    Has anyone taught themselves to think in another language? Any tips for someone trying to learn?
    Thanks, Anne
  2. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I think it depends on the level of the foreign language you have. I don't think you can teach yourself how to think in another language. It just comes alone when your knowledge of the language is good enough for it.

    BTW, I think this is wrong forum for this question. Why don't you ask some mod to move your thread to Cultural Discussions?;)
  3. Rossana_

    Rossana_ Senior Member

    It is to know about the culture of the country where the language is spoken, I mean, it is to know the traditions, culture in general of the people that live in that country, etc
    I think that is to think in another language. I hope this helps you.
    Good luck!
  4. padredeocho Banned

    United States
    ABSOLUTELY!!! Great question. When learning a language, it is hard to keep up with the words you hear. It is like trying to get a drink out of fire hydrant. So, try to think in pictures. Try to visualize the image that you feel is trying to be conveyed.
  5. andym Senior Member

    English - England
    I think it probably comes down to spending time in the country: if you get the chance, do a month-long Spanish course in Spain or Latin America then read the local papers, watch local TV, get the Spanish-language guidebook in museums. try to talk to yourself in Spanish, try to avoid talking English to your fellow students etc.
  6. ulrika

    ulrika Senior Member

    English/Spanish (I don't know where I'm from anymore)
    Talking to yourself in the new language works great. You can make up the words you don't know and use the ones you know, making it all sound like the new language. Eventually, you will get closer and closer to the real thing. That's the way little kids learn to talk, by babbling nonsense mixed with real words, all while imitating real speech.

    A good way to do this is to enact everyday scenes, imaginary incidents... like witnessing an accident, giving a conference on something or being interviewed about your work and life by a journalist. Remember to imitate tone and accent, exaggerating it even.

    Good luck!
  7. padredeocho Banned

    United States
    HUGE MYTH #1: You must spend time in a Spanish-speaking country to learn Spanish.
    Cable TV is great! Watch it ALL the time with Spanish subtitles running. You will learn soooo much faster than you would learn in a foreign country because of the vast vocabulary that you will get, and wonderul mental imagery to carry around inside your head. Give me a TV set for a few hours a day, and I will teach anybody Spanish! :)
  8. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I agree, but partially. Yes, it is possible to learn a language without living in a country of a language you learn. I am a living example. I have never been to some English speaking country. Never. I learnt it with the help of CLASSES in the first place, then TV and movies. And then a lot of work on my own. But on the other hand, I also learnt Spanish in this way, and then went to Spain to live. Before I went to Spain, I expressed myself in English with no problem and I could say my English was far better than my Spanish. After a year spent in Spain, the two languages switched roles.
    so yes, it is possible to learn a language and to achieve a very high level without being to some Xlanguage speaking country, but it is much faster when you go somewhere. A very important note: I would also recommend not to go before you learn SOMETHING. Your learning process in the country of language you choose will be much faster if you come with a certain knowledge.
  9. moura

    moura Senior Member

    Portuguese Portugal
    The best way to try to "think" in another language is having or creating an ambience wholly characterized by that language. The best is to live the the language native country, of course. But otherwise, I remember a few tips: reading a book, without going even once to dicitionnary; seeing movies without subtitles, leastening to foreign radio or watching foreign tvs.
    One last tip: travelling a lot in the WR forum of that language. Do you know, that for examble, when I am at Cultural or English foruns, I "think" only in English? I'm thinking like that right now. Absolutely true! :)
  10. ulrika

    ulrika Senior Member

    English/Spanish (I don't know where I'm from anymore)
    I think learning a new language requires a lot of effort in the part of the person learning. Movies, music, TV, reading a lot of newspapers, books, all kinds of things, even medicine prospects help immensely.

    However, I think that there are small nuances to a language that can only be learned if you are corrected by native speakers and if you travel around a bit. Things like prepositions, articles, gender... small things, that you may be doing wrong without realizing it, and ESPECIALLY pronunciation.

    I am in the process of learning French right now, and spending 4 months in Paris has definitely been of great help. There is a lot of language we learn by walking around, reading signs on shop windows and parked commercial vehicles, listening to children and old people talk, etc. There are important words that are used frequently in casual conversation that are essential to get by.

    For example, even after studying French for a while, reading constantly all kinds of literature, and watching films I had never come across the word "truc", or never really paid attention to it. However, in everyday speech, it is absolutely ubiquitous.

    But yes, I agree TV and music help a lot.
  11. trelu9 New Member

    English / UK
    I am completely self-taught in Spanish (never had any lessons, never been to Spain or any Spanish-speaking country) and I think it is possible to "think" in another language... but I guess it depends on exactly what you mean by that. I mean, do we think in English? I think the thought process is something quite abstract and so whatever language we "think" in, the actual process stays the same.
    But anyway, I think that ulrika's idea of speaking to yourself (as well as having conversations with other people, making up stories, etc) in your head is the best way of "thinking" in another language. :)
  12. Anne Senior Member

    Sorry Natasha - don't want to rattle any cages here, but I don't know anyone else to ask. Who is mod?
    Thank you, padredeocho! You're blazing a new trail here, and I hope a lot of people read your posting.
    Thanks to everyone - this is a great forum.
  13. ulrika

    ulrika Senior Member

    English/Spanish (I don't know where I'm from anymore)
    I am sure it is possible to learn a language without getting any help from others (not easy, but possible).

    I think, however, that the point of learning new languages is to be able to communicate with (and understand) other people and other cultures and to gain access to what those people and culture can offer in terms of literature, music, food, philosophy, etc. I think that this process will naturally make you want to actually see these people for yourself and their respective environment. Platonic love is love all the same, sure. But perhaps we can agree that there is something irreplaceable in the human touch and I don't see the benefit of renouncing to it deliberately.

    That said, if circumstances do not allow for travelling, it is not impossible to learn on one's own. I always recommend to my English students to immerse themselves in the language as if they were entering a sauna. To read everyday, see all movies in their original language without any subtitles at all, then with the original language closed-captions, to listen to music and try to learn the lyrics, to act out little scenes and plays for their own amusement (like pretending to be interviewed) AND.... if at all possible (this is my personal suggestion, and it is of course not meant for everyone) to fall in love with a person from that particular country, preferrably one that only speaks his or her mother tongue.

    Of course, if you have already found your better half, then there is always the BBC.
  14. venenum

    venenum Senior Member

    Middle of Nowhere

    "Thinking in a foreign language" means just that - thinking in a foreign language. That's when you don't have to translate every word from your mother tongue into the foreign language and vice versa.
    I believe thinking in the foreign language is the main predisposition for fluency in a language, because you can't speak fluently if every word must be translated in your head - everything you hear in foregin language goes to your mother tongue, then you think of the reply in your mother tongue, and than say it in the foreign language. It takes up lots of time, and slows down the conversation considerably
  15. danalto

    danalto Senior Member

    Roma, Italia, Europa
    Italy - Italian
    In my (humble) opinion, mostly depends on the way you learned a foreign language. I was lucky, I attended a very good Language School where I first started to hear and repeat, and then to read and write in other languages.
    So, it's easy for me to think in the languages I know...:)
  16. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish

    I don't know what is it with the numbers, but when I'm having a conversation in English, I always have to translate (mentally) the numbers from Spanish to it takes a while for me to say the numbers in English. I know that this is not right, but I've been trying so hard to avoid that...and still trying....jajajaja

    Also, I always think in Spanish when I count. I think it's because my first language is Spanish.

  17. danalto

    danalto Senior Member

    Roma, Italia, Europa
    Italy - Italian
    Right. This works for me too...;)
  18. Oh yes, I start thinking in the language as soon as I start speaking it for a certain amount of time, inevitably. The brain switches to this language and then this thinking lasts for a while before it is interrupted by some other language coming in. Sometimes this happens in a rather funny way. For example, if in an English-language the name of a French friend is mentioned, that might be enough for me to suddenly switch into French.

    I keep thinking in a foreign langauge after a conversation in it, after reading a book, more seldom, after hearing something.

    But this mostly has to do with the amount of time you use a particular language , not even with the actually profound knowledge of it.
  19. ulrika

    ulrika Senior Member

    English/Spanish (I don't know where I'm from anymore)
    Doesn't it happen to you that you read something, and later you remember the information, but you don't remember in which language you read it?
    It happens to me all the time.

    Also, a funny thing... I have never been able to seethe ONCE little booths that are everywhere in Spain (the ones from the Organization for the Blind) and read ONCE as in number 11, ... I always think of the english word ONCE. I think it is because we very rarely write numbers out... so I am more used to the english word, which is very common...
    So to me... it is "ouans"... hahaha!
  20. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    I think it can be debated whether or not people think in a specific language. But apart from that, I sometimes 'talk to myself in my head' in English, despite the facts that my English is not that great, that Dutch is my native tongue and that I live in a Dutch speaking region / country.
    I guess it is not the result of something I have taught myself, but rather the (automatic) result of constantly speaking (a, erm, private variant :) of) English at home.


  21. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I find it easier to speak in Spanish if i don't conciously think of what I want to say in English first, if I just come out with it in Spanish it's easier.

    The more time I spend speaking Spanish the easier it is. For example if I have time off work and just speak to my boyfriend and his friends for a day or two then it just flows naturally, but if I'm at work or with my friends and then have to speak Spanish afterwards it takes a little while to tune in.
  22. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    Am now trying to master listening to both Spanish and English at the same time, and being able to register the Spanish as well as/rather than/ the English.
  23. exactly!!! It is happening to me all the time. i guess that|s the sign of a high level in the language and also of true multilingualism.:)
  24. susantash Senior Member

    Español de Uruguay
    Yes! That's exactly how I feel! I try really hard to make my students understand this, but it's so difficult! They feel they have to translate everything to be able to understand it. This has always happened with beginer students, and as in my country multilingual classes don't exist, they ALWAYS resort to spanish for communication purposes. That certainly doesn't help them to think in English and consequently to gain fluency. My point is that it's crucial to to think in the language you're learning in order to be fluent, but unfortunately, at least in my country, very few students actually do this.
  25. padredeocho Banned

    United States
    One way to think in a foreign language is to listen to its music whenever you can. Once you get the words stuck in head, you will hear it automatically while driving, etc.
  26. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    Oh yes! Coming here frequently I must confess that I very often think (or talk in my head if you prefer) in English. I think that says a lot about my "addicted member" status. :rolleyes: Sometimes I want to say something but can't find the French word for it: the English is what comes to mind first... It also happens that I mentally prepare an answer to a message someone sent me, and then realize that I'm not thinking in the right language - the person is as French as me!
    And while before, I had to look up a few words from French to English when typing a post here, now most often it is the other way around: I often think of an English word without being sure that it expresses what I want to say (without having phrased my thought in French in my head), and then go to the dictionary to check. Most of the times I'm surprised to see that it does!!

    I'm also reading a book in English currently, which might help - but I find it rather hard to think in Jane Austen's English :D
  27. fificremefarben New Member

    English- Scotland
    I don't find that I automatically think in any of the languages that I study (french and Spanish) but I have this annoying thing I do where, when I hear a song in english, i automatically try and translate at least the chorus into french or spanish- it's really annoying. Does this happen to anyone else??
  28. Libby_Kiwi Member

    Hamilton, New Zealand
    English (New Zealand)
    I disagree. When I go into Spanish class in the morning, I find it difficult to talk fluently with my students. I have to "look" for the words. By the time I leave in the afternoon, I automatically find myself greeting English-speaking colleages in Spanish unless I make an effort to change my thinking back to English.

    Thinking in another language means you picture the concept in your head, then your brain automatically supplies words to describe it - whether those words will be (for example) English or Spanish depends on which language you are "thinking in" at the time, which language you have most recently been exposed to/immersed in.

    Sorry, I don't think I have explained myself well, but I hope you can understand!

  29. zena168 Member

    ROC Mandarin
    I don’t think it’s something you can just learn to do. It just happens when you achieved a certain amount of fluency then it becomes natural. It will happen much quicker if you start at an environment that completely immerses you in that language.
  30. Span_glish Senior Member

    New York
    Guatemala, Spanish
    There is so much you can learn in school as far as studying a new language. There are many things you can do on your own to practice like: watching cable, reading books, listening to music, even reviewing pamphlets translated into the language you're learning, surfing the internet, etc. I guess you'll reach a point where it will become natural.
    The hard part is when you keep trying to test yourself to see if you know it in both languages.
    Another problem I have is "counting" in another language. I get lost. I've tried everything, but my mistake is to go the easy way and count in Spanish in my head. It's something I know I need to work on.
  31. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    Not with French and Spanish, but yes, I know that too.

    It also sometimes happens that I can't think of the German word for something, only the English (especially if it's something "academic") or Croatian in more everyday contexts ("odobriti" was one such word I couldn't think of the German recently, for those who understand).

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