I’m not a native speaker but I think in English. English has become a part of my life: I wake up listening to CBC Radio, I read Metro News, I use English every day at work, I chat with my friends and boyfriend in English, I watch English movies, and I even dream in English.
Thinking in a foreign language is essential. It increases fluency and allows you to connect with people from different cultural backgrounds. You don’t necessarily need to move to an English-speaking country like I did but putting your brain in “English only” mode will definitely help.
Here are some tips that helped me:
1. Don’t use a bilingual dictionary.I remember spending hours looking up words and definitions in an English-only dictionary. I prefer to use paper dictionaries as it helps me memorize words better. When you search for a word, turning page after page, you naturally repeat it in your head. By the time you find the meaning, you remember the word.
2. Learn vocabulary in phrases, not single words. Our brains are pattern-matching machines that remember things put into context. If I can’t come up with any context examples, I check out Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary or google it.
3. Start using the vocabulary as soon as possible. Never stop yourself from speaking until your language is perfect, you will be waiting forever! I am always trying to take initiative even if I am really scared because “practice makes perfect”. As soon as I had an opportunity, I volunteered for an English college newspaper writing articles and interviewing different people. It was really hard at the beginning and it took me a long time to write a draft. After seven months of volunteering experience and publishing with the Canadian University Press, the newspaper decided to hire me as their Staff Reporter.
4. Talk to yourself in English. When I was learning English (and I still do this), I would describe to myself whatever happened during the day. This gives you extra practice before you start explaining things to other people.
5. Get an English-speaking friend or partner. It is always easier to improve English with a companion especially if he or she is a native speaker. I noticed a dramatic improvement when I moved in with my boyfriend ;). Regular chats in person, over the phone, text messages, and other common activities brought me to the next level and I stopped talking to myself!
6. Travel. I used every opportunity to travel to English-speaking countries. I’ve met numerous people in my travels and try to keep in touch with them even after my trips. Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, and emails definitely help.
The biggest challenge is dealing with the frustration that comes with not being able to fully express yourself. The key is to think positively and stay motivated!