Finding conversation partners to practise your target language with can be a struggle, especially if you don’t live in a country where it’s widely spoken. But even if you do, it’s hard to find someone to talk to: native speakers are often intimidating for a beginner and language exchanges only happen every so often. Luckily for you, however, there is one secret weapon every language learner can use to get their daily speaking practice: your own inner voice. In addition to an easy way to get conversation practice, this tool comes with many other benefits.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of thinking in your target language and how to train yourself to do that.
What inner voice?
To be crystal clear, when we say “inner voice” or “inner monologue”, we mean that conversation with yourself you always have going on in your own head. Most people experience their own consciousness as a quiet but constant stream of thoughts, observations, and passing ideas running through their heads. And usually, this stream of consciousness comes in the form of your native language (or any other language you feel the most comfortable in).
But, with some training, you can start using this tool to improve your target language instead.
Don’t sideline yourself
When just starting on a foreign language, it might be tempting to go about it in a completely mechanical manner: first hear the target language, translate it back to your native one to make sense of what was said, then come up with a reply in the same language and translate that back to your target language.
Not only will it make it harder for you to start speaking the foreign language, you’ll most likely just be frustrated by not being able to express as complex thoughts as the ones in your native language. Not to even mention how the word order and syntax will probably differ between your native language and that of the target language.
Instead of trying this Sisyphean feat, switch your inner monologue to your target language to see much quicker improvement.
Prime your brain, revise, practise speaking
Research has found that your inner voice has a profound effect on your language acquisition. This “metacognition”, or thinking about thinking, can help you make better sense of the target language and also helps to prime the language bits in your brain to better accept new input (i.e. the target language). So, being acutely aware and concentrated when you’re devoting yourself to your target language can really help shorten the time to fluency.
In addition, you can use your inner monologue as a tool for revision, going over (and over and over) the vocabulary you’ve recently learned. As we all know, repetition is the mother of knowledge. And while it might be difficult to find conversation partners looking to have a dialogue on the exact same topic so you could revise your words, your inner monologue is always ready.
And speaking of conversation: Starting your speaking practice is arguably the most important part of the learning process. After all, language is first and foremost a human-made tool for direct oral communication. Thus, starting actively using your target language should be your top priority. To help you with that, your inner monologue comes in mighty handy, especially if you are more of a shy speaker. Speaking to yourself might seem weird at first, but there are few better conversations practise tools. Playing through scenarios and taking on different personas will give you more opportunities to practice your language skills than simply waiting for your next lesson.
How to make the switch
Thinking in your target language comes down to patience and practice. It doesn’t happen overnight and it definitely takes some discipline to cultivate. But so does everything in language learning.
Here are some tips on how to get started:
– Narrate your activity
Yes, just become your own narrator and keep describing what it is what’s currently happening, what you’re doing, experiencing, feeling. Not only will this help you switch your monologue to the target language, it’ll also highlight plenty of useful you-specific vocabulary for you to learn and revise.
– Describe your surroundings
Much like the previous point, this will teach you not only the words for most common action verbs and objects, you’ll pay more attention to wherever it is you are. And you might even notice something interesting!
– Don’t only think, visualise
The human brain is a peculiar organ. It often has a hard time distinguishing between objective reality and whatever it comes up with. Luckily for you, this means that visualising can have a profound effect on your language learning. Try turning those abstract thoughts into clear mental images and see your language abilities improve.
– Don’t sweat the grammar
Of course, it’s important to learn the ins and outs of your target language, including the grammar. But that really only comes into play at the higher levels. When you’re just getting started, it’s much more important to prioritise fluency over accuracy. Focus on simply getting the words out there, instead of worrying about the grammar. It might also be a good idea to work on fluency during your inner monologue and get a private teacher to help you along with the accuracy.
– Make it into a habit
As mentioned in the intro to this section, thinking in your target language requires practice. As such, you’ll see the best results when you devote yourself to improving this skill every day. Creating positive habits is a vital part of a successful language learner’s toolbox. Whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, just make sure you stick to your plan and keep improving.
Switching your inner monologue to your target language brings important benefits. Not only will you improve on your metacognition, you can also use it to revise relevant vocabulary, and simply get easy conversation practise. However, as with any skill, you will need to practise thinking in a second language. For that, create a habit of narrating your life or describing your environment. Creating vivid mental images is another great idea. You should also remember that while accuracy is important, you should definitely focus first and foremost on fluency.