Thinking in English

Everyone knows that, for English Language Learners (ELLs), thinking in English is not only an effective and natural way of acquiring the language, but also a sign of progression and fluency. But how can students actually learn to “think in English” and how can teachers encourage students to start thinking in English?

I read an article on an ESL blog or magazine one time about some tips on how to think in English. For one, ELLs should wake up in the morning and immediately start the day thinking in English. Maybe they could start the day thinking about their schedules and/or what needs to get done. “Let’s see, today I have my afternoon elective and my core classes. Afterwards, I’m meeting up with my friend for dinner and then we’re going to study at the library.” Students can write a reminder to themselves so it’s the first thing they see when they wake up. This is effective because the student is often alone for the first part of his/her day and therefore won’t be tempted to or have the opportunity to speak in their native language. While walking to the subway station, riding the train, and walking to school, there are so many opportunities for a student to practice thinking in English.

A couple of weeks ago, I was going over comparatives and superlatives with my Low-Intermediate students. I told them to look around as they were walking or while they were on the train and form comparatives and superlatives by observing the people around them.
The woman with the blond hair is taller than her friend.
• The B Line train always comes much faster and more often than the D Line train.
• (While passing Pinkberry) Pinkberry has the best frozen yogurt in Boston.

You can do this with almost any grammar point that you are being taught. For example, you can practice the present perfect:
I see a girl who is staring at her watch. I wonder if she’s waiting for someone. I wonder how long she’s been waiting for her friend. She looks annoyed, so she’s probably been waiting for at least twenty minutes. I wonder how long she’s lived in Boston. She’s been living in Boston for 5 years. She’s been living in Boston since 2007. She’s wearing a backpack. The backpack looks old. I wonder how long she’s had that backpack. I wonder how long she’s been a student. She’s been studying at Northeastern University for the last three years.

You get my point. Be creative. Use your imagination. Create fun stories to help you practice the grammar you’ve been learning. It can be fun, especially since we all love to people-watch anyway. 🙂

A student of mine told me the first thing he does when he wakes up is turns on his radio to a public news station. This is also a great idea to help you start your day thinking in English. What are your ideas?

Your (favorite) teacher,