If you are a person who loves learning foreign languages, you’ve surely heard that thinking in the target language improves your chances of becoming fluent in it. This probably falls right in line with the things you learn, such as speaking, reading, writing, and listening. The only difference with thinking in a foreign language is that you control the thinking on your own.

‘Despite what many people think, thinking in a language is actually a skill. This is an intimate process that helps you translate the thoughts from a language you know to a language you are trying to learn, and what bigger liberty to express yourself than in your mind, when no one else is distracting or listening?’ – says Leo Gomez, content writer at the academic writing help service RushMyEssay.

Once you come to the point where you have some knowledge of a foreign language, it is time to work on this skill.

HERE ARE 7 SCIENCE-BASED METHODS TO THINKING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE THAT WILL HELP YOU ACHIEVE THIS:

1. FOCUS ON FLUENCY, NOT ACCURACY

If you’ve studied the best ways to learn a language, you surely know of this strategy. Interestingly, the same actually applies to thinking in a foreign language, since the process actually intertwines expression and thought.

When you focus on accuracy over fluency, you are unable to express yourself, either inside or outside your head. At least not during the first levels of your foreign language learning. Grammar and vocabulary is extremely important and should definitely be learned, but when it comes to thinking inside your head, it is time to let this go.

The key to achieving language fluency through thinking in a foreign language is to get rid of the idea that it has to be perfect. Aiming towards perfection can lead to what experts call perfection paralysis, which can only cause frustration and decrease your motivation to learn.

2. VISUALIZE

Another common trick between thinking and speaking in a foreign language is visualization. In order to express your thoughts in a language different from the one you are using on daily basis, it is very helpful to actually visualize the things you are saying.

The brain is not created in a way that it can fully differentiate between imagined and real actions. One study has proven that the brain sends exactly the same impulses to a person’s legs when he is imagining running, as it does when the actual running process is happening.

As it turns out, our brain is set to treat visualization as similar to the real deal. This is why we use imagination to plan things and adjust our strategies, and why we should visualize learning a foreign language.

3. THINK DIRECTLY

Some experts say that, in order to learn a language, you need to think ONLY in that language. This is certainly not something you can achieve at the beginning phases of your language learning, but you should eventually start aiming toward such ‘direct thinking’.

When you translate everything you think, you may get stuck in between worlds, or lose the idea along the way. But, when you think directly in the target language, you can easily detect the gaps in your knowledge and wake those dormant vocabulary phrases and words you do not use when actually speaking the language.

4. IF IT DOES NOT WORK, TRANSLATE YOUR THOUGHTS

When you cannot think in the language directly, this seems like the obvious thing to do. And it actually is. If you haven’t arrived to the point where you can get visualize and actually think in the foreign language, you need to start with your own and turn that stream of words into a translation inside your brain.

You’ve probably heard of this strategy and most likely, you heard that it is a bad thing to do for your language learning. The previous strategy is definitely the most recommended when it comes to thinking in a foreign language, but we can all agree that you cannot just skip to thinking directly when learning a completely new language!

If you are a beginner, start translating your thoughts. Start by translating things that you read and see, until the point when you are ready to do the actual thing. Once you feel like you are ready, you can start working on your direct thinking.

5. WRITE IN A JOURNAL

Journaling is an excellent way to keep track of your thoughts, not only a way to take notes. Make a separate journal for your language thinking, and start a habit of writing down the things that you thought during the day.

This is basically another way to practice the skill. You may find it to be a bit slower, but you will be grateful for your journal keeping when you want to see the progress of your thoughts or glaze over the things you already considered.

In addition to this, writing in a journal is also advantageous in the sense that you can discuss your thoughts with others without being disrupted in the actual process. Your journal writing will be a daily monologue, but this does not mean that you cannot get feedback and corrections on your writing afterwards.

6. READ AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN

Reading is a step you shouldn’t miss when learning another language. When you read books in the target language, this will not only improve your vocabulary but also give you a sense of belonging in the author’s culture.

Obviously, reading someone else’s ideas and writing is not ‘direct thinking in a foreign language’, but the actual reading process has many more benefits than you think. When it comes to thinking in a foreign language, reading allows you to build ideas for further thinking, improve your vocabulary and fluency, and even create imaginary alternatives to those the author has chosen in his/her writing.

7. DESCRIBE YOUR ENVIRONMENT

Cannot come up with ideas of WHAT to think about? Luckily, there is no rule as to what topic is best to think about in your mind, which gives you the liberty to improvise.

When you cannot think of anything to think about in a foreign language, start describing the things around you.

That’s it! You now know the seven key steps to learning how to think in a foreign language. Once you implement these into your daily routine, you will notice rapid and amazing changes in your language learning.

WORDS ON THE BRAIN: FROM 1 MILLION YEARS AGO?

All social animals communicate with each other, from bees and ants to whales and apes, but only humans have developed a language which is more than a set of prearranged signals.

Our speech even differs in a physical way from the communication of other animals. It comes from a cortical speech centre which does not respond instinctively, but organises sound and meaning on a rational basis. This section of the brain is unique to humans.

When and how the special talent of language developed is impossible to say. But it is generally assumed that its evolution must have been a long process.

Our ancestors were probably speaking a million years ago, but with a slower delivery, a smaller vocabulary and above all a simpler grammar than we are accustomed to.

ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE

The origins of human language will perhaps remain for ever obscure. By contrast the origin of individual languages has been the subject of very precise study over the past two centuries.

There are about 5000 languages spoken in the world today (a third of them in Africa), but scholars group them together into relatively few families – probably less than twenty. Languages are linked to each other by shared words or sounds or grammatical constructions. The theory is that the members of each linguistic group have descended from one language, a common ancestor. In many cases that original language is judged by the experts to have been spoken in surprisingly recent times – as little as a few thousand years ago.

LINGUISTIC GROUPS: FROM 3000 BC

The most widespread group of languages today is the Indo-European, spoken by half the world’s population. This entire group, ranging from Hindi and Persian to Norwegian and English, is believed to descend from the language of a tribe of nomads roaming the plains of eastern Europe and western Asia (in modern terms centring on the Ukraine) as recently as about 3000 BC.

From about 2000 BC people speaking Indo-European languages begin to spread through Europe, eventually reaching the Atlantic coast and the northern shores of the Mediterranean. They also penetrate far into Asia – occupying the Iranian plateau and much of India.

Another linguistic group, of significance in the early history of west Asia and still of great importance today, is the Semitic family of languages. These also are believed to derive from the language of just one tribal group, possibly nomads in southern Arabia.

By about 3000 BC Semitic languages are spoken over a large tract of desert territory from southern Arabia to the north of Syria. Several Semitic peoples play a prominent part in the early civilization of the region, from the Babylonians and Assyrians to the Hebrews and Phoenicians. And one Semitic language, Aramaic, becomes for a while the Lingua franca of the Middle East.

LANGUAGE AND RACE

A shared linguistic family does not imply any racial link, though in modern times this distinction has often been blurred. Within the Indo-European family, for example, there is a smaller Indo-Iranian group of languages, also known as Aryan, which are spoken from Persia to India. In keeping with a totally unfounded racist theory of the late 19th century, the Nazis chose the term Aryan to identify a blond master race. Blond or not, the Aryans are essentially a linguistic rather than a genetic family.

The same is true of the Semitic family, including two groups which have played a major part in human history – the Jews and the Arabs.

ENCLAVES OF LANGUAGE

On a Linguistic map of the world, most of the great language families occupy one distinct and self-contained territory. The two exceptions are the Indo-European and the Finno-Ugric groups.

In modern times the Indo-European languages have spread across the globe – to North and South America, Australia and New Zealand – as a result of European colonialism. But the intermingling of Indo-European and Finno-Ugric, forming a patchwork quilt across Europe, has come about for a different and earlier reason.

Finland, together with Estonia on the opposite shore of the Baltic, forms one isolated pocket of the Finno-Ugric group (the Finno part). Hungary is another (the Ugric element).

The cause of this wide separation is the great plateau of Europe which Finno-Ugric and Indo-European tribes have shared and fought over through the centuries. The ancestral language of the Finns, Estonians and Hungarians was once spoken in a compact region between the Baltic and the Ural mountains, until these people were scattered by Indo-European pressure.

LATIN AND GERMAN: FROM THE 5TH CENTURY

Over the course of history languages continually infiltrate each other, as words are spread by conquest, empire, trade, religion, technology or – in modern times – global entertainment.

A good surviving example of this process is the line in western Europe dividing the Romance languages (those deriving from a ‘Roman’ example) from the Germanic tongues. The Romance family includes Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian (the result of a successful Roman campaign in the 2nd century AD). The Germanic group is English, Dutch, Flemish, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic.

This linguistic division exactly reflects the influence of the Roman empire. Italy, France and the peninsula of Spain were sufficiently stable regions in the Roman world to retain the influence of Latin after the collapse of the empire. The Germanic areas east and north of the Rhine were never fully brought under Roman control (the exact linguistic dividing line survives in modern Belgium, with its population speaking French in the south and Flemish in the north).

England was safely within the empire for three centuries. But the Romanised Celts were not strong enough to resist the invading German tribes, the Angles and the Saxons. Their languages prevailed in the form of Anglo-Saxon.

Modern English occupies a middle position within the western European family of languages, with its vocabulary approximately half Germanic and half Romance in origin.

The reason is not Britannia’s relatively fragile position within the Roman empire. The cause is more recent, in the Norman conquest. After seizing northwest France and adopting the local language, the Normans arrive in England with French as an essential part of their cultural baggage. Several centuries of rule by Norman aristocrats and bureaucrats bring Latin words back into the language of England through the medium of medieval French.

LINGUISTIC EVOLUTION

The ongoing struggle between languages is a process very similar to evolution. A word, like a gene, will travel and prevail according to its usefulness. A word’s fitness to survive may derive from being attached to a desirable new invention or substance, or simply from being an amusing or useful concept.

‘Aspirin’, coined in 1899 by its German inventor from the opening letters of Acetylirte Spirsäure (acetylated spiraeic acid), immediately became an international word. In a less serious context ‘snob’, first given its present meaning in English in the mid-19th century, is now naturalized in a great many languages.

As with evolution, the development of language is an irresistible force – though traditionalists invariably attempt to build barriers against change. The useful word ‘hopefully’ (long available to Germans as hoffentlich, and meaning ‘it is to be hoped that’) has in recent years been steamrollered into the English language by the public against howls of protest from the purists.

On a grander scale, the French government from time to time legislates ineffectually against English words straying into French. These are the hybrids described as franglais. A good example of their impertinence is the enticing notice on a tweed jacket seen in a Parisian shop window: Très snob, presque cad (very snob, almost cad).

IMPERIAL TONGUES

The French neurosis about being tainted by English (though the intrusion is trivial compared to the overwhelming effect of Norman French on English in the past) is linked to a wider aspect of the evolutionary struggle between languages.

A major advance for any language is to become a Lingua franca. Almost invariably the result of power and prestige, this status is achieved by French after the heyday of France’s international influence under Louis XIV. In more recent times English – first through the British empire, but more significantly through American world dominance in the 20th century – has replaced French in this role.

English in the late 20th century is in the fortunate position of being the Lingua franca at an unusual moment. For the first time in history a global language is needed for practical purposes (by scientists, by airline pilots). Meanwhile a communication system is in place to spread some knowledge of the English language to a mass international audience through radio, television and the internet.

The imperial power underpinning American English as a Lingua franca is for the first time cultural and economic rather than military.

The pattern of history insists that English is not likely to be the world’s final Lingua franca. Others will come and go. It is also true to say that the predominance of English depends on its spread rather than the total number speaking it.

Chinese is spoken by more people than English (albeit in only one region of the world), and Chinese economic power lies in the future. But the complexity of Chinese perhaps makes it an unlikely rival candidate. One of the great advantages of English is that it is easy to speak at a simple level, though immensely complex in its idiom.

NEW LANGUAGES FROM OLD

Meanwhile the evolutionary processes go on. Already there are many varieties of English in use. The pidgin English flourishing in New Guinea is baffling to an outsider; originally devised as a practical business language, reduced to its simplest elements, it has evolved its own rich character. In the same way English-speaking communities in the West Indies or in India (not to mention America) have developed local words, phrases and constructions which give their own version of the language a special colour.

The astonishing proliferation of Indo-European languages from one tongue, just 5000 years ago, will not be repeated in our more interconnected world. But the tendency of language to evolve continues unchecked.