Stop “Thinking” in Your Mother Language

Tips, Tricks and Resources to Learn A Foreign Language Faster

First of all, there seems to be no agreement in the neurosciences whether we actually think in words. I personally don’t think so, I believe we think in images, emotions, or what have you. Of course, you might say “But look, Georg, I’m observing myself right now, and I do think in words”, and I would believe you . However, I would point out that you are visualizing your words……..

Be it as it may, if you’re learning a foreign language like Spanish or French, you might be doing exactly the same, and you would perceive yourself as thinking in your own language. And that is an obstacle to your progress. Because you would have to revert the process in order to express what you’re thinking into Spanish or French.

If you “think” love, stop doing so. Just remember what it feels like to love and to be loved, and translate THAT into Spanish or French. If you want to talk about yesterday’s excitement when your baseball team won, don’t “think” it. Remember what it felt like and look for the equivalent sound you would use in that other language to express that. After all, words are basically sounds to which we associate a certain meaning. 

Doing that you will be saving a lot of time and effort and you will advance more quickly.



  1. I've been saying this for years. If you constantly rely on your mother language you can't translate quick enoughbto be fluent. You have to turn your first language off like turning off a light switch. Only then can you truly become fluent. Thanks for the blog post.

  2. Personally I'm trilingual and in my case I wouldn't really say it's like turning off a light switch, as Eunice says, but more like changing which radio frequency I'm working on. I can move back and forth between the languages easily, but if I do it too much too quickly I can sometimes end up confused about which language I'm actually speaking in.

    I do agree with you. I tend to think in a mix of languages, switching from one to the next in my head as I go along, though I only rarely dream in something other than my mother tongue (that I remember). I don't think in my mother tongue and then translate, but occasionally I will hit a barrier where I don't know a word and that one will come to me in English rather than whatever language I was using. English is still my default language whenever my competence in the others lets me down!

  3. Thanks for your comments, Rea. I really like the term 'default language'. But you sure agree that that can change over time and then revert back. In the nineties, for example, I didn't speak any German, lived in Mexico and socialized with Americans, and my 'default language' was definitely English at the time. I'm back to German, however, ever since I started teaching it again about 10 years ago.

  4. Oh yes, the default language can change. When I was living in France and using French more than English, French eventually became my default language, even if there were still some anglicisms in it. I still dreamt in English, mind.

    I think your default language is whatever one you say "ow" in as you don't think before saying ow, you just say it.