Carla Martinez

How to think in English

How to think in English

For most people, thinking in English means you don’t need to translate things in your head anymore, and consequently, you don’t waste so much time trying to build your sentences. And it’s probably every student’s ultimate goal, the winning lottery ticket, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s when you don’t need to study any longer because you’re already fluent. 


Our brain is CONSTANTLY trying to save energy, to get rid of information it doesn’t use often. When we learn new vocabulary and don’t use it, our brain doesn’t bother to save space for that information. Apart from that, the more tired we are, the harder it is to think, in whatever language.

That’s why it’s so hard to simply start building random sentences in another language: because we don’t have a vast enough vocabulary yet. We don’t insist on practicing enough so our brain understands that that deserves to be kept in a special place. It’s like the OG speed dial.

In other words: the more you practice the things you want to speak, the faster you’ll think and the less you’ll have to translate.

But again: the things you want to speak.

That’s why I always insist on the need to understand your goals very clearly, writing them down so you can chase them with deretmination and knowledge. The more time we waste learning isolated words, or ones that are too hard, or even complicated expressions we won’t be able to use, the harder it will be to think in a foreign language. 

So, what exactly does it mean to think in a foreign language?

It’s when you’ve practiced specific vocabulary many (MANY!) times, so many that it doesn’t take you that long to express your ideas. We automatically think in our native language because we’ve been doing it for years, so it feels automatic. But building a thought is arduous work in any language.


How can I speed up this process?


First of all, that are related to your goals when learning a foreign language. If you aim to travel (like it’s my case learning French),  start by learning sentences and expressions you’ll need to communicate in such circumstances. Review what you study as often as possible, doing exercises, copying sentences to your notebook, and making your own sentences adapting to your reality.

For instance: if you’re also planning on traveling, it’s important to learn that I’d like a / an / some at a restaurant means you want to order. So create and rehearse your own variations of what you’d order and like to eat.

I’d like some fries

I’d like a glass of red wine

I’d like a slice of chocolate cheesecake


Pick topics you like, such as TV shows, YouTube channels, and TED talks related to things that pique your interest. Studying what you highly increases the chances of you working harder, and, as a consequence, fixating the content you’ve studied.

Listening is one of the greatest ways of acquiring a new language, getting used to different accents linking sounds, besides showing you new expressions that can (and should) be practiced as often as possible until you manage to incorporate them into your own thoughts. You’ll soon start imitating characters and even dreaming in English as a consequence.

It’s not magic. It’s practice.


Start with the simplest things that feel a little silly even (I’m about to go shower, I have to call my doctor, Hi mom! How are you?), but that will send your brain a signal that there’s another way of thinking, another language it has to get used to. Use the vocabulary you already know and incorporate other new words little by little.

In the beginning, it’s going to be tiring and you might even feel a little bit of headache, both of which are completely normal. It’s because of your lack of practice. Do a little every day and you’ll see how much easier it gets.


And lastly, DO NOT GIVE UP. No one’s born with the ability to think in another language. Everyone has to work for it. It’s not a miracle that happens after some years of study; it’s the consequence of hard, focused work. So, why not start today so it happens faster than you imagine?