How to Think in a Foreign Language (If you want to be fluent)

Language Learning (Japanese)

Hello, it’s Yutaro.


Do you want to speak Japanese or any other language fluently like when you speak your own language!? If your answer is YES, you may want to stop translating words when you speak or even think about something.

I am an English learner and this idea of thinking in a language you’re learning changed everything. Like I used to remember words in Japanese and whenever I needed to use them to chat with my friends, I’d search for their meaning in Japanese and translate them into English and make a sentence.

I’d take 5 minutes to type just a simple, short conversation in English. But now, I can skip all the processes of remembering and translating using Japanese, so that I can speak faster and remember twice as much vocabulary as I did before.

So, today I will introduce the benefits of thinking in a foreign language and how you can implement it in your language learning.




What Does It Mean to Think in a Foreign Language


Firstly, there are two types of language learners when they speak their target languages.

The first type is to remember words and grammar in your own language and translate them when you speak the language. Most beginner language learners are categorized as this type since it is more effective to utilize knowledge of their first language.

The second type is to remember words and grammar in a language that they are mastering and speak whatever phrases come to mind.

If your goal of language learning is to have conversations with native speakers or have fun while traveling, you should be fine with both types. However, if you want to be fluent in a foreign language or enjoy movies and tv shows without subtitles, you should consider starting thinking in your target language.


Benefits of Thinking in a Foreign Language


There are so many benefits of thinking in a foreign language if your goal is to be fluent.

For example, being able to think in Japanese is a very important goal that will bring you one step closer to becoming a fluent Japanese speaker. Because language and culture are strongly related and thinking in Japanese enables you to connect with Japanese culture and people.


Let’s say the one who translates Japanese into English is Mr.A and the one who doesn’t translate is Mr.B.

Mr.A knows all the basic Japanese vocabulary and grammar rules, moreover, he remembers well over 300 Japanese phrases.

Mr.A, undoubtedly, can order food at a Japanese restaurant, send emails in Japanese to his boss, and enjoy a small chat with his Japanese friends.

Yet he cannot understand Japanese movies and anime without subtitles, and he pauses every time he speaks.


Do you know why!?

Because Mr.A thinks of Japanese as a completely different language from his first language which is English. Of course, Japanese and English are different languages. But, in my opinion, you can extend the knowledge of Japanese as part of your English.

It doesn’t make sense? Let me explain.

Mr.A starts thinking in English when he tries to speak Japanese. As well as he translates Japanese into English to understand what it means when he hears it. Because he was taught to learn a new language this way in school. Unless you’re a newborn baby, it is more effective and efficient to use your English ability to understand Japanese.

Did you have a test like this? “Translate this sentence into English”「今日は友達と遊びました」

I’m not too sure if you have similar exams in your country as we have in Japan, but, this hinders you to think in Japanese.

You cannot translate in your head and keep the fast pace with native speakers unless you’re a language interpreter, right!? There are many people who are kind and willing to wait until you finish your turn to speak. But, sadly, there are some who are not.


Let’s take a look at Mr.B who thinks things in Japanese.

Mr.B, on the other hand, doesn’t know as many Japanese words and grammar as Mr.A.

However, he understands Japanese in Japanese, so that he can enjoy anime without subtitles, he can speak with Japanese native speakers, and he can convey a message naturally even without knowing the difficult words.

Of course, his understanding of the content of anime without subtitles depends on his vocabulary range and other elements. However, the majority of everyday conversations are spoken in basic Japanese and thus, Mr.B can understand most of it.


Why can Mr.B do all of the things listed above even though his vocabulary range is smaller than Mr.A‘s? Because he can speak Japanese as he speaks English.

It may seem difficult to understand why Mr.B can do that, but, I am a living example of this. I used to do a lot of work in my head to speak English, but, now I don’t do that anymore and none of the Japanese words wander around in my head.

Now take a moment and imagine a 5-year-old Japanese boy. He certainly doesn’t know as many more Japanese words as you do (If you have been studying Japanese for more than years). However, he doesn’t have any problem talking to his parents and friends, does he!? Because he knows how the Japanese language is spoken.

That means you can get to that level within 5 years or even less if you start thinking in Japanese right now.


Downsides of Thinking in a Foreign Language


Before I introduce you to the methods of how to think in your target language, there are some downsides of it that you should know.


1. It Takes Time


As you know language learning takes a lot of time. Along with thinking in a foreign language? It may seem forever. But you can develop this thinking-in-a-foreign-language habit if you surround yourself with your target language.

However, it is not an easy task to get yourself in the target language environment completely. If you’re American, you will easily find English-speaking people everywhere. The more you speak your first language, the more difficult it gets to think in your target language and therefore, the environment is extremely important.


2. You May Lose Something Along the Way


It may not be a concern for many people, but while I was learning English, I have made some sacrifices along the way.

I think the biggest reason why Japanese people struggle speaking English is that they spend too much time with Japanese people. Not that I think they do not have enough time to speak English but, too much time speaking Japanese hinders their progress in English.

That is why I avoided making Japanese friends when I was really into learning English. Although your Japanese will improve either you speak other languages than Japanese or not, it is very difficult to develop the thinking-in-Japanese mindset. Therefore, indeed you do not have to do what I did to improve my English, you may want to change your environment and expose yourself to the target language as much as possible.



How You Can Think in your Target Language


Okay, I’m sorry for the long introduction, but it is very important to know how this works. It is going to be a long journey but it’s worth it.

So, let’s get started.


Method1: Think Everything around You in the Target Language


It is easy as it sounds. Just think about everything in Japanese if you are learning Japanese. Do it in Spanish if you are learning Spanish.

For example, look around. What do you have on your right? Start with something that you see every day.


Can you say this in Japanese?




These are りんご (ringo).

Did you know it? If you learn Japanese, it must’ve been easy for you. Now I want to ask you a question that did you think of apples in your native language first and translate them into りんご?

I think りんご just popped in your head, didn’t it!? Because you knew what it was and have said it many times along the way.

Like when people say to you 「名前は何ですか?」(Namae wa nandesuka?) which means “What is your name?”, you could probably say「○○です。あなたは?」(~desu. Anatawa?) without even thinking in your first language. Because you have heard and used this phrase so many times that you are accustomed to saying it. It’s just an easy example but this is how you think in Japanese.

It’s just an extension of being habitual of using Japanese as your most used language. The more you speak or think in Japanese, the more fluent in Japanese you can get.


Therefore, let’s just skip the process of remembering things in your native language and learn them in your target language, as well as use them in your daily life.


This is a 冷蔵庫(れいぞうこ reizouko).

I know it’s a fridge in English but let’s try not to connect 冷蔵庫 and fridge, and just remember it as 冷蔵庫. So, whenever you see it you will think “It’s a 冷蔵庫”.

Now let’s remember everything around you in your target language. What do you see in your bedroom? ベッド? テレビ? 枕?


Method2: Make Sentences in the Target Language


Okay, it’s the same thing. I want you to make sentences using only your target language.


You are now going to bed, what do you usually say?

It doesn’t have to be long or native-like phrases. You can make it as simple as it gets. 「眠くなってきた」(nemuku nattekita) “I am getting sleepy”.

It’s easy, right!? It may be difficult at first and it’s okay if you are using more of your native language than Japanese during the early stages. The fact that you use the phrase「眠くなってきた」everyday allows you to say it without even thinking on the 10th night.

If you are more confident of saying 「眠くなってきた」, you can add more phrases to it like 「眠くなってきたから歯を磨こう」(nemuku nattekita kara hawo migakou) “I am getting sleepy, so I’ll brush my teeth”.

Language learning, especially speaking, is the repetition of these everyday conversations, so building this amazing habit will definitely help you.





The great thing about thinking in a foreign language is that you can speed up the learning process and learn more words faster. As well as you will have a deeper understanding of the nuance of cultural differences and rules that only exists in the language.

If you are having trouble speaking fluently in your target language, I want you to try thinking in a foreign language. In this way, you don’t even have to learn difficult and complicated words that native speakers don’t even use, and be able to learn phrases that you use now, in an hour or tomorrow.

Even though you remember 100 useful phrases. If you don’t use them, you will forget them eventually. If you continue to think in your target language, you will slowly but certainly start using phrases that you use while shopping and traveling. So take it easy.

That is it for today. If you liked it, please take a moment and share this post with your friends. That means the world to me.

Also, if you have questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or send me a direct message through Twitter.

Thank you😆😆😆


  1. Nene.Z より:

    Great advices👏Cannot agree more✨

  2. cbholganza より:

    This is so true. So, to be able to learn fast, i think talking to a young boy will be very good. His language skills will be very basic. And you will absorb the culture easily as well.