Do you think in Spanish

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Do you think in Spanish. I only speak a little but I have to stop to translate everything. Any thoughts.....what worked for you with your second language'

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updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by La-Cosa

14 Answers

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You're putting words in my mouth, Tad. wink
Make sure you type outside the "blockquote."

ooops, I can't get the hang of editing that html stuff yet.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by tad
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tad said:

By the way, you wrote "I couldn't barely speak," but that is incorrect. I don't know how it is in the UK where you live, but in the US, many native speakers say "I couldn't hardly {verb}," which is also grammatically incorrect, and maybe you have heard natives use this incorrect form. Both barely and hardly mean "only with great difficulty" or "only by a slim margin," so using a negative form cancels out the difficulty and makes the meaning opposite. That is, "I couldn't barely speak" would mean "I could easily speak," although we would never say it with that meaning. 'I could barely speak' would be usual here...

You're putting words in my mouth, Tad. wink

Make sure you type outside the "blockquote."

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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By the way, you wrote "I couldn't barely speak," but that is incorrect. I don't know how it is in the UK where you live, but in the US, many native speakers say "I couldn't hardly {verb}," which is also grammatically incorrect, and maybe you have heard natives use this incorrect form. Both barely and hardly mean "only with great difficulty" or "only by a slim margin," so using a negative form cancels out the difficulty and makes the meaning opposite. That is, "I couldn't barely speak" would mean "I could easily speak," although we would never say it with that meaning.

'I could barely speak' would be usual here...

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by tad
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lazarus1907 said:

Contrary to what I think?

I inferred from what you wrote that you were recommending a conscious decision to stop translating mentally, and to think in Spanish instead. I was saying that such a decision is impossible, and the transition has to come naturally, over time, as one progresses. If my inference was mistaken, then we are in agreement.

By the way, you wrote "I couldn't barely speak," but that is incorrect. I don't know how it is in the UK where you live, but in the US, many native speakers say "I couldn't hardly {verb}," which is also grammatically incorrect, and maybe you have heard natives use this incorrect form. Both barely and hardly mean "only with great difficulty" or "only by a slim margin," so using a negative form cancels out the difficulty and makes the meaning opposite. That is, "I couldn't barely speak" would mean "I could easily speak," although we would never say it with that meaning.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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James Santiago said:

Contrary to what Lazarus said, I don't think it is possible to make the decision to think in a foreign language.

Contrary to what I think? I said I started translating, but my improvements didn't begin until I stopped doing it. I never implied that you should dive straight into the new language without a dictionary, or at least, not without a teacher. I assumed that she is not a complete beginner, of course.

On the other hand, I was taught to teach without translating, using only Spanish from day 1 to absolute beginners, and all students that I have seen following this system can speak practically perfectly in one or two years, depending on how many hours a week they study, of course. My wife studied four weeks at the beginning like this, and she can talk to my parents for hours (with mistakes, of course). For this you need a proper teacher, and the right materials.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by lazarus1907
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samdie said:

Gus said:

I just caugh myself thinking in English while reading a Spanish sentence. The word "tabaco" sounded extrange, at first, I thought it was mispelled; I thought that the correct spelling was tobacco but, I kep thinking and realized that I was reading in Spanish so the correct spelling was tabaco. Very extrange episode.

It can also be a two-edged sword. When I first read your reply, I thought that the "extrange" in the last sentence was meant to be a joke (and to reinforce the point that you were making). Then I saw that you had also written "extrange" in your second sentence, which would suggest that you missed catching yourself thinking in Spanish while writing in English!

Don't feel bad. The other day I had to look up the word "trunk" in the English dictionary, because after reading so much in Spanish, I couldn't think how to spell it in English. (trunc? trunck') Oops.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by Natasha
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Gus said:

I just caugh myself thinking in English while reading a Spanish sentence. The word "tabaco" sounded extrange, at first, I thought it was mispelled; I thought that the correct spelling was tobacco but, I kep thinking and realized that I was reading in Spanish so the correct spelling was tabaco. Very extrange episode.


It can also be a two-edged sword. When I first read your reply, I thought that the "extrange" in the last sentence was meant to be a joke (and to reinforce the point that you were making). Then I saw that you had also written "extrange" in your second sentence, which would suggest that you missed catching yourself thinking in Spanish while writing in English!

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by samdie
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I just caugh myself thinking in English while reading a Spanish sentence. The word "tabaco" sounded extrange, at first, I thought it was mispelled; I thought that the correct spelling was tobacco but, I kep thinking and realized that I was reading in Spanish so the correct spelling was tabaco. Very extrange episode.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by 00769608
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I agree with the others here. You must eventually start thinking in the foreign language. That of course, is not easy. It takes a long time. I had studied Spanish in middle school and high school before going to live in Spain. So I had a fairly good grammatical base. I could conjugate verbs well and had a reasonable vocabulary. Shortly after arriving in Spain and developing a social life I was often around native speakers. The first thing I noticed was that Spanish was flowing off their lips smooth and fast. I could hardly keep up with what they were saying. Second, when I tried to respond I found myself struggling to form a sentence. I was translating.

Everyone has to go through the pain of translating, at least for a while. I dedicated myself to study and improvement. I was literally studying 3-4 hours a day and then practicing with people almost every night. Yes, I was studying grammar. I don't really think you can get around that step. Children can do it, but they have an innate ability that is later lost.

With time I began to really pay attention to phrases spoken by the natives and conceptualize them in my mind. That way I could have a comfort level about when and under what circumstances they were used. I would practice using those phrases to myself as part of my studying. As I would say things to myself in Spanish, I would visualize the meaning, object or concept, without referring back to the English that described the same thing. This was the start of my thinking in Spanish.

I can tell you that after about 6 months things started to flow for me. My Spanish was not perfected yet, but it was starting to become easier. After a year and a half, I was a darn good speaker of Spanish and often received compliments.

updated SEP 24, 2008
posted by Mark-W
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Contrary to what Lazarus said, I don't think it is possible to make the decision to think in a foreign language.

From my own experience, I believe that it is inevitable that you will translate from English in your head in the beginning. As your vocabulary and grammar knowledge improve, Spanish thoughts will begin to pop into your head without being preceded by the same thought in English. This process will continue over time, so that more and more you are thinking in Spanish as you speak.

However, at least in my own case, I have never stopped having occasional English thoughts crop up while speaking Japanese. This usually happens when I come across some idiomatic phrase or cultural concept that I haven't dealt with before in Japanese, so the English thought flashes through my brain and I have to translate it or think of an equivalent expression.

I am referring here only to people who learn a foreign language as an adult. Obviously, someone like Anadelia is different, because she is truly bilingual, and she probably doesn't go through the same process that we who learned as adults do. However, ALL of the true bilinguals I have met, and I have met and known many, have at least some mixed-language thoughts as they speak. I have asked them about this, and the answer was always the same: When speaking English, their thoughts are almost completely in English, but occasionally a stray Spanish thought pops up. And vice versa. They don't all recognize this at first, because they haven't analyzed it, but when we discuss it at length, they realize this is happening. It's only natural, though, since certain concepts are better expressed in one language than another. Even when I speak English, I sometimes find myself searching for a good phrase to express a Japanese concept.

Incidentally, by "true bilingual," I mean someone who has two native languages, with neither being stronger than the other, who can speak, hear, read, and write exactly like a monolingual of similar education, who is fully fluent in all cultural aspects (old TV shows, jokes, news, politics, etc.), who has no foreign accent whatsoever, and who never, ever makes a "foreigner" mistake. In my life I have met only one person whom I considered to be truly trilingual, and that person had an exceptional background. I seriously doubt that it is possible to be truly quadrilingual. A childhood just doesn't have enough waking hours to accommodate all that needs to be absorbed.

updated SEP 23, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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My dad, although he is not a native speaker, started speaking Spanish to us when I was about 8 or 9. He encouraged us to learn by listening first (NOT reading / writing first), and to practice "thinking" in Spanish throughout the day. "Me voy a la tienda," etc. It really helps.

updated SEP 23, 2008
posted by Natasha
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My English improved dramatically as soon as I stopped translating. Before that I couldn't barely speak or write at a decent speed. Most of the mistakes I still make every now and then are residues from the time when I used to translate everything. Get yourself a monolingual dictionary to avoid translating, and get materials where everything is in Spanish. It is very hard when you start, but the effort pays off earlier than you think, and then it's all much easier.

At least that worked for me.

updated SEP 23, 2008
posted by lazarus1907
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Thank you for the reply... I will make more of an effort to think in spanish. My family came from Spain into Mexico and crossed over into the united states. My grandparents were long dead when I came along since my father was 45 when I was born....and he left home during the depression. So there is no heritage.

updated SEP 23, 2008
posted by La-Cosa
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I was about 10 when I left Spain and at home I spoke Spanish with my parents and still speak in our native language..I went back to Spain for about 6 years at 19. When I speak in English I think in English and when I speak in Spanish I think in Spanish. I really think that having basic vocabulary and visiting a Spanish speaking country is the best, when you are forced to speak the language you learn.

updated SEP 23, 2008
posted by anadelia