Thinking in English is Essential for Fluency
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Hi, I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. If you like this podcast and you want more help with your English language learning and fluency – visit our website at www.adeptenglish.com and you will find much more material like this podcast.
Well today’s subject is ‘Thinking in English’. One meaning of this is really the whole of what Adept English helps you to do. When you’re learning a language, at first you don’t know the words in the new language very well – so naturally you translate them into your language and back again. But it’s really important that there comes a point when you stop doing this, you stop translating and start to be able to think in English, to think in the language that you’re trying to learn. This is why Adept English puts the emphasis on listening. Listening is the action which increases your automatic understanding and this is really, really important. I can’t emphasize enough your ability to think in English is what will enable you to speak naturally, more like a native English speaker. If you stick with translating, you won’t be able to do that. And your understanding needs to be automatic. Automatic means that it’s happening without you consciously being aware, without you consciously thinking about it. So if I think of the word ‘apple’ in English, it immediately and automatically puts a picture of a red juicy apple into my mind. And in fact for me, the apple…the word apple also reminds me of a crunching sound it makes when you take a big bite of an apple. If you think of the word apple in your language, you may find you’ve got a similar association. It doesn’t matter if the word ‘apple’ in English has a different association or picture for you to that in your own language – just as long as it’s still associated with the idea of an apple. So this is why listening to words in context is really important – you’re building new associations, new links in your brain, so that you can use the words automatically. This is why when I introduce words and phrases to you, I try to paint a picture in your head of that phrase, or of that word so that you’ve got some context around it.
Now the brain is the organ, the bit inside your head – the brain is what you do your thinking with. And there is a lot of psychological evidence that when we first learn a new language, we have to use the left side of the brain. So think left and right – so you’ve got your left hand and your right hand. And you’ve got the left side of the brain and your right side of the brain. Now the left side of the brain is very logical, very systematic – it’s what you use for mathematics. And when we’re first learning a new language we have to use this left side of our brain. So we learn say, the verb ‘to be’ – I am, you are, he she it is, we are, you are, they are. And it’s necessary that you do this kind of learning, because you don’t know enough of the language to do it any other way. And this is the way that traditional teaching tends to work – so on a traditional language course, you learn grammar, you learn vocabulary. You learn that the past tense is ‘I was, you were, he she it was’ etc. – it’s a bit like learning your times tables – 2 x 3 = 6, 3 x 3 = 9, 4 x 3 =12 etc. There’s not really another way to learn it to begin with. But if you can understand something like this podcast, you know a lot of English already. That type of ‘left-brain learning’ that traditional language courses use, is not the way forward any more! If you want to become fluent, you need to be using the other side of your brain, the right side of your brain. This side works much more intuitively, it tends to work with the overall picture, the main idea, instead of the detail. This side of the brain is good at Art or Design, or understanding the feel of something. And this side of the brain learns much more automatically, without you knowing it, more unconsciously. And this is the side of your brain, which you need to use, if you really want to acquire a language, to become fluent, for it to become automatic. So each time you listen to a podcast like this one, the automatic parts of your right brain are working really hard on the mechanics of the English language, but all you’re conscious of perhaps, is the meaning of my words. The more listening you do – the more the unconscious, the automatic part of your brain is working and the deeper your knowledge of English becomes. This is the big difference between ‘knowing a language’ and being able to think in it and speak it.
If you think about when you speak your own language – most of the time you’re not aware that your brain is searching for the right words. It does it so quickly, so automatically – you’re not even aware. So it makes sense that if you want to speak English fluently, you have to practise your understanding enough for this process to become automatic, to happen in the unconscious part of your brain. These kinds of psychological insights are really important, for your language learning. They can save you a lot of time. Now we’re about to release our new version of the Seven Rules Course – so if you want more ideas, tips, insights like this – then sign up for our Seven Rules course, the Seven Rules of Adept English. It’s completely free!
So let’s do a bit of vocabulary, let’s do a bit of Nothing But English vocabulary learning. To think is the word that we use most of all – and ‘to think’ is a good general word for most times when you want to talk about what goes on in your brain, inside your head. But there are a lot of other words in English which mean to think – but they all have a slightly different flavour.
So an example might be to ruminate – now the word ruminate is also used for the process of digesting grass in cows. Cows have four stomachs – and eating grass and digesting it takes a lot of processing, a long time. And in humans, to ruminate means that you think over a long period of time. It also has a sense that the thoughts are negative ones, they’re not very happy. Your thinking makes you feel bad, if you ruminate. Another word with a similar meaning is to brood. So if someone broods, this is thinking that is a long process and probably results in negative feelings.
A different word for to think is to evaluate. If you’re asked to evaluate, this means ‘think about what’s good and what’s bad about something’ – and then maybe write or speak about your conclusions. So students of English or History or Geography may be asked questions as part of a test or an exam, which say evaluate. For example ‘Evaluate the effect of climate change on farming’ might be an essay question. But to evaluate is a thinking process.
Another word to reflect – so if you’re reflecting, this is thinking about something probably that’s already happened or is already happening. ‘He reflected on what had happened the day before’ you might say.
Another word to cogitate – this one comes directly from the Latin verb ‘cogito’. If you cogitate – it means you’re thinking very deeply. Calories are being burned, energy is being spent, if you’re cogitating – this is hard work type thinking. Other words with a similar meaning might be to ponder or to muse. So if you were being philosophical, you might say ‘I pondered about the meaning of the universe’. To muse is still deep thinking, but has the sense that the subject is a little bit less serious perhaps.
To calculate – to calculate is another form of thinking – but this time, it tends to relate to things mathematical, numbers, money. You might say – ‘Ooh I’ll have to calculate whether I can afford to buy a new car’. Or ‘We’ll have to calculate how much time this is going to take’.
To consider – so another thinking word. So if you’re considering something, it’s perhaps fairly brief and it tends to result in a decision. So it’s rather like evaluate, but there’s a definite conclusion. ‘He considered for a moment whether to say yes or not’ would be an example.
Another couple… to imagine – so to imagine, that’s the word you might use when your thinking has a ‘What if?’ element to it. What might happen – what might things be like if this happened or that happened? To imagine tends to mean that you see the pictures, the images in your head. To contemplate has a similar meaning – you’re thinking about what may happen, but to contemplate is more at an ideas level. So you might say ‘She imagined what her bathroom might look like, with the walls painted green’, whereas ‘He contemplated a career in politics’.
I don’t know why we have so many words in English, probably because we’ve had so many influences, which we’ve taken into the English language. But don’t let this put you off. When it comes to speaking and expressing yourself, to think will work very well for all of these scenarios. But it’s good vocabulary, it’s good to be aware of other words that you may hear other people use, or that you might read.
OK, enough thinking for now – have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.