David Recine

How to Think in English

How to Think in English

Translating your own language into English is helpful to a point. But to truly master English, you should think in English. But how to think in English? That’s the big question.

Before we can answer that question, however, we should first look at a different question….

Why think in English?

So why do you need to think in English anyway? Isn’t it enough to speak it, while still thinking in your own native language?

Well… yes and no. It is true that many successful English learners use English, but don’t actually think in English. But there are definite benefits to thinking and speaking in your second language.

Thinking in English can help you think more clearly

The more you focus on a task, the better you do, right? Well, strange as this sounds, this even applies to the task of thinking.

Yes, it’s possible to be more focused or less focused on your own though processes. It’s possible to think more about your thinking. And one great way to do this is to carefully, deliberately make sure your thoughts are in a second language, such as English.

If you’re curious, Gizmodo has published a great article on the science behind thinking in a second language. But what’s really important is that thinking in English can help you think more clearly about important things… such as English studies or TOEFL prep.

On that note…

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

Thinking in English can definitely help you improve your English skills.

Have you ever suddenly had to stop in the middle of an English sentence, because you couldn’t think of the right word? Of course you have; this is a common event if English is your second language.

But it doesn’t have to be all that common. You can produce English smoothly and quickly, if you think in English. It’s easy to find the right words if they’re already at the front of your mind.

And needless to say, if you can think in English, you won’t just speak and write more effectively. You’ll also be able to hear and read more accurately too.


How Can You Think in English?

There are a number of ways to learn how to think in English. Here are a few that have worked well for my students in the past.

Speak in Your Native Language While Thinking in English

You’re bound to use your native language a lot. I mean, really, it doesn’t make sense to talk in your second language to family or friends from your home country.

The good news is, you can use your native language to improve your English-thinking abilities.

Think of a sentence in your native language right now. Got a good sentence? Nice! Now, think of that sentence in English… while saying it in your native language.

Keep doing this as you write and speak in your native language. What you’re doing is “flipping the script,” to use an English expression. This means you do the opposite of an expected situation. You turn English into a language of thought rather than a language of speech and writing. And you use English to think of words in your native language, instead of always translating your home language into English.

Make up a story in English.

One of the things that makes the human brain unique is that we can think creatively. You’re really thinking in a language when you can imagine things in that language.

The next time you’re in public, look at some people you don’t know. What do you think their names are? What will these people do later in the day? What do you imagine they did yesterday? Imagine all of this in English.

Imagining little things about the people and places around you is called daydreaming. To daydream in English is easy… and it’s a way to master English on a deep, “thinking” level.

Start small, then go bigger.

I’ve mentioned thinking English sentences and entire English stories. You certainly want to reach that level if you’re going to master thinking in English.

But you shouldn’t be discouraged if you don’t start at the sentence-building and daydreaming levels of English thought.

Instead, start smaller. Start at the word level. If you see a sign that says “bakery” or “stop” in your own language, think “bakery” or “stop” in English. Look at a list of words–in English or in your own language–and think of those words in English.

From there, start thinking of short sentences in English. Then, think longer sentences. Then daydream. Then have whole conversations, read whole books, and watch whole movies where you think in English. You’ll be on your way to clearer English use and clearer thinking in no time!

How this helps your TOEFL English

If you’ve come to this blog, you are probably prepping for the TOEFL. I’m happy to tell you that thinking in English helps you in all kinds of English situations. This includes English exams, and TOEFL English.

If you can think in English, it becomes so much easier to speak and write with confidence in TOEFL Speaking and TOEFL Writing. But that’s not all. You’ll also be less likely to fall behind in TOEFL Listening. And you’ll have an easier time understanding TOEFL Reading, even when you encounter difficult words or sentences.

So for the Magoosh TOEFL Blog readers, that’s one more great reason to think in English!


  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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