Many people struggle when they try to think in Spanish, some people believe that it happens overnight, they think that after a while of memorizing verbs and studying the preterit, the future tense or the past perfect, their brains will having thoughts in Spanish automatically.
I am definitely not an expert on languages, but I am a language learner and because of that, I can tell you that thinking in a foreign language doesn’t happen in that way.
Sitting down every day for an hour or two to read your Spanish lesson and fill in the blanks afterward, means you are a good student, but you need to know that this won’t make you think in Spanish.
What you are doing with this kind of learning, is filling your mind with lots of information about a Spanish; that doesn’t mean you learn to use the language, but it means you know the structure, and most of the times, the meaning of written words.
Studying Spanish this way will probably give you a very technical jargon, which not even native speakers understand.
Learning this way will increase your writing skills, and your grammar knowledge will be high, you will probably do awesome on written tests, but I know from personal experience that when the time to speak and listen to native speakers come, you will not do as great as the score of the written test says.
Commit yourself to think in Spanish
I decided to learn to speak English as a native speaker when I was 16 years old. However, I felt that I really owned English after 4 years of taking that decision.
In the beginning stages of my learning process, I committed to think only in English; it was really difficult at first, but it certainly got easier over time.
I remember one time that I was on a bus thinking to myself in my mother language: “how could I ask the driver to stop in the next station in English?” of course, I didn’t say anything because the driver spoke my native language, but I was trying to practice English inside my mind.
At first, it was a big struggle to try to make sentences in my mind. I wouldn’t tell them out loud and I couldn’t know whether they were right or wrong, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to think in English and I was doing it.
I tell you this little experience of my learning process, to ask you to do the same when learning Spanish: Make a conscious decision to think in Spanish, and start doing it.
Ask yourself: “How would I tell my wife that I love her in Spanish?” or “how would I say that I hate this meal in Spanish” and try to say the phrases in your mind just to yourself.
If you commit yourself to think in Spanish and you do it, your fluency will be affected in a very positive way. You will be helping your brain to become used to the new language.
Talk to yourself
Talking to yourself might seem a little creepy, I don’t want you to look as a person with mental disorders, so don’t do this when you are in front of people, but do it during your lonely times.
Every time you need to finish some chores, or while driving, think out loud and have a little conversation with yourself in Spanish.
This way you can practice your speaking, nobody will point at your mistakes, and you could even repeat the same conversation with yourself until you get it fluently.
Please, don’t think you’re going to look ridiculous because you are going to have conversations with yourself; I did this all the time with English, and I know I probably looked as if I wasn’t very mentally sane so to speak, but I didn’t care, it was a very powerful way to practice speaking.
Avoid perfectionism, switch languages!
Remember I told you I struggled to make sentences in my mind? I found that trying to speak perfect English was useless, I realized this when I met my cousins who were born and raised in the U.S by their Hispanic parents, so their English and Spanish sounded native.
I noticed that, whenever they were struggling to say some words, they just switched to the language they felt, they would get the needed word quicker. For example, they would say something like this: “Did you see that “carro” going so fast?”
My cousins were using Spanglish, and I started to speak Spanglish too (in order to not look weird, I did this just in my mind xD).
In your case, you could mix your first language with Spanish too, you could use “Spanglish”, “Germanish”, “Japanish”, “Spanise”, “Hindish”, “portuñol” or whatever the combination is to combine your mother language with Spanish, but do it and forget about struggling to make sentences in your mind, just relax and think in Spanish.
Context and topics
Another useful tip to think in Spanish is to contextualize yourself with Spanish things like places, people or events, let’s do an example.
Think for a moment about “Las islas canarias”, what does it come to your mind? Well, if you knew about this place before, you probably know these are some islands located in Spain, the mere name is actually making you think in Spanish.
From this point, there’s an infinite number of topics to think about: Spanish foods, or names of famous locations in the islands, or if you’ve traveled to the islands you could remember some places or activities you did in Spanish.
You could do some research about certain a topics to learn Spanish vocabulary and then practice it to yourself.
Thinking in Spanish, or in any language is perfectly possible, as long as you commit to it and take action. Basically all it takes, is to talk to yourself, both out loud and in your mind.
Stop believing you can’t speak Spanish, or that thinking in Spanish is very difficult, YOU CAN DO IT, OTHER PEOPLE HAVE DONE IT BEFORE, THOUSANDS ARE DOING IT RIGHT NOW. WHY CAN’T YOU? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
¿Quieres hablar español como un nativo?
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