Why Thinking in French is a Bad Idea and How to Change Your Ways

So, have you ever been told that you’ll speak better the language if you think in French? Believe it or not, this is a myth that could prevent you from progressing! Whether it’s sweating the small stuff or learning to speak French, thinking right can be a recipe for success!

Check out the article below for more insight into the power of thought. You probably are one of the many people whose goal is to think in French. And that is definitely a good idea. Or is it?

Let’s see what this goal does for you.

FIRST, it motivates you to learn vocabulary. Words. Lots of them. Maybe you’ll even challenge yourself to learn hundreds of words/day (I know someone who prides themselves with this record).

I’m tempted to make a case that you don’t need too many words to make sophisticated conversation, but more about this another time. Let’s continue…

SECOND, it motivates you to learn verbs – and you need special motivation for this. Because verbs are boring. Or are they? If you use the sense memory technique (something I teach in my classes), you can make verb conjugation as dramatic and fun as a Shakespearean play.

Also, you won’t be one of those people using « ON » in order to avoid verb conjugation. You may want, however, to know how to avoid difficult verb tenses, until you get comfortable with them (but this secret in another article too).

THIRD, it will make you aim high, and motivate you to identify yourself with the French. A very noble goal.

But what if you can’t make it?

What if, no matter how much you try, you keep thinking in English and you rarely end up thinking in French? If ever.

In this case, I suggest – just for kicks – that you notice what exactly you are doing if you push yourself hard enough.

FIRST, you may have the tendency to speak fast. Great idea – if you make yourself clear, that is. But we tend to speak fast either when we are not sure of what we say or how to say it, and we hope to get it over with. To sneak out of trouble. The more we are unsure about the way to speak correctly, the faster we will speak, and we end up telling a story that nobody understands all that well.

SECOND, you may end up avoiding conversation altogether, just because you don’t think in French. And, because everybody told you that you should, seeing that you keep translating frustrates you so much, until you quit trying.

Let me remind you something here.

40% of the English vocabulary comes from French or directly from Latin, so they sound quite similar. That’s a lot of words you already know.

Of course, the pronunciation of the words spelled identically can be very different in the two languages, but I can tell you all about pronunciation in another article.

May I ask you this: why are you avoiding to use the biggest asset you have to possibly speak at least 40% correctly in French: your mother tongue? (If English is not your mother tongue, but you know it better than French, it still applies.)

Trying to avoid the “false friends” prevents you from enjoying all those good friends.

But this is not the biggest damage.

You may end up considering yourself a worse French speaker than you really are.

And, in conversation, confidence is everything because, without it, we make the most obvious choice: we shut up and start nodding.

The trick here, in fact, is not to aim to think in French.

Not even a little.

Confused? Let me explain.

Thinking in French is the brain’s shortcut to find the words quickly, when we speak too much and too fast in French.

The brain doesn’t think in words, it thinks in images. When we make conversation, we only describe the images we hold in our mind’s eye with the words that come to us. While you are a beginner, you have to think in words (vocabulary, verb conjugations, etc.) and the brain has no need to create a shortcut: you are too slow.

Try to speak fast before you have enough practice, and it’s like running before you learn to walk. An accident waiting to happen.

But place yourself in an immersive experience, where you have to survive with food and shelter, or better yet, surround yourself by French children, and you’ll be forced to pick up the language and to speak intelligibly fast – otherwise, you may end up with some angry childless parents on your hands. In a few short months, you’ll surprise yourself thinking in French.

What’s a better solution?

Be nice to yourself, and drop the idea that you have to think in French, before it naturally happens.

Thinking in French is not a goal, it’s a “collateral damage” that comes and goes, depending on how much you use the language. The function creates the organ.

Practice it daily, and your thoughts will follow suit.

Stop, and you’ll be back to your English self.

Now it is your turn!

Immerse yourself as you FINALLY reach your dream of becoming bilingual, learn to speak Parisian French and BREAK your language barrier!

…and now Please Share this post with your friends. They’ll love you for it!

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Llyane S.
TutorOcean Tutor | + posts

Hi, I'm Llyane! I am a french tutor licensed by the Ministry of Education France who is also in the process of obtaining n the process of obtaining the International Certificate of Language Coaching. I offer personalized French language coaching for students of all ages and abilities.

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