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Stop Translating and Start Thinking In English
Despite memorizing long lists of vocabulary words and studying grammar for years, many of my students struggle to speak in English. They spend a lot of time translating in their head before speaking. They are able to understand spoken English (if it’s slow enough), but when it comes to speaking, they struggle.
If this sounds like you, keep reading!
The secret to fluency is to learn how to think in English.
There are many ways to practice thinking in English. I recommend following the 4 steps given by Emma in her YouTube video:
- Think in individual words and simple vocabulary
- Think in simple sentences
- Think about and plan your day in English
- Think in conversation
She explains each of these steps clearly with examples in her video.
By increasing your ability to think in English, you will improve your ability to speak in English.
Shayna at Espresso English gives the following 4 steps, which are similar to what Emma recommends:
- Think in individual words
- Think in complete sentences
- Think about functional English
- Think about telling a story (narrative English)
You can learn more about these 4 steps here.
How to Think in English Using Short Animated Films
Using unscripted videos is one way to develop the skill of thinking in English. If you often find yourself translating in your head, using short films can help you practice thinking in English.
As you watch, try to narrate what is happening in English. Stop yourself if you begin to think in another language. Even if you can only begin with simple vocabulary words, it is good practice. As you improve your vocabulary and grammar, you can progress to more complex sentences.
Proceed from Words to Sentences
Depending on your level, you might start with words (boy, woman, glasses, newspaper) or sentences (The woman is reading a newspaper. The boy is texting. They are sitting on a bench). Do what you can. The more you practice, the easier and faster it will be to produce English without translating (buffering in Konglish).
Develop English Vocabulary and Grammar Using Short Animated Films
In addition to using videos to practice thinking in English, you can also use them to develop vocabulary and grammar. There are many short films with no words, so comprehension (understanding) is easy. You can start with the short video Snack Attack.
Think about Grammar
There are many different ways to use Snack Attack to work on grammar while practicing thinking in English. You can practice:
- Verb tenses (present, present progressive, past, etc.)
- Adjectives (tall, short, old, green)
- Comparative adjectives (taller, shorter, angrier, happier, older)
- Tag question formation
Watch Snack Attack by Eduardo Verastegui on YouTube.
Useful Vocabulary for Snack Attack
All of the vocabulary words below are related to the video. They may serve as a reminder of forgotten words to help you or perhaps some will be new. Working with words in context like this will help you remember them more easily.
Objects: vending machine, cookies, bag (purse), newspaper, bench, train, headphones, glasses, head scarf, stairs, hole puncher, window shade, wrapper, container, trash can
Feelings: happiness (happy) anger (angry), frustration (frustrated), amusement, surprise, regret
Actions: attack, put, hit, kick, run, get, laugh, sit, open, read, take, brush off, tap, yell, listen to, smile, text, grab, nod, shake, frown, tug, break, raise, give, eat, swallow, point, squeeze, smash, crunch, crumble, throw, walk away, leave, climb, get on, sit, close, punch, discover, find, realize, look, get up, throw away
Words to describe actions: forcefully, angrily, happily, playfully, kindly
Think About the Answers in English
These questions about the short film Snack Attack progress from easy to more difficult. How many can you answer in detail?
- Who are the characters?
- Where are they?
- What are they doing?
- Why is the old lady angry?
- What is the story?/What’s happening?
- Why do you think the young man remains silent?
- How does the old lady realize her mistake?
- What do you think the old lady is thinking and feeling at end of the story?
- How could this story have a different outcome?
- What’s the main message of the film?
More Lessons on How to Think in English
You might also enjoy the short film Alike. The lesson is for intermediate level students, but the film can also be used for thinking in English. You can also search YouTube for lots of short animated films to use.
For another lesson on learning how to think in English, check out my affiliate Espresso English. You’ll find a video with clear and slow speaking that includes the words printed on the video so you can read along as you listen. There is also an explanation below the video with four levels of how to practice along with examples.
Never stop learning!