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How to Think Directly in English

Kevin Naglich
Sales Engineer English Coach

If you ask me how to think directly in English, my answer is: focus on internalizing structures, not memorizing words.  

When you only memorize words, you force your brain to make up sentence structures while translating, thinking about what you want to say, and making sure you pronounce things correctly. 

This is how you end up with sentences like "I do mistakes" instead of "I make mistakes" or "For the years I feel the first time I can improve" instead of "For the first time in years I feel like I can improve." 

Think of it like making a pizza. 🍕

What would be easier? Buying a frozen pizza and putting it in the oven or having to buy flour, salt, oil, make the dough from scratch, then buy tomatoes and make the sauce from scratch, so on and so forth. 

It's the same way with English. 

If you internalized a structure, you would be able to use it directly without translating individual words.  

Now you might be thinking, "Ok, cool. So how do I internalize structures?". My advice is to start by trying to repeat sentences aloud after hearing a native speaker say them in a video or podcast. 

If you find one that you understand but have a hard time remembering, that's the sweet spot.  

When you can't repeat a sentence that somebody just said, it's likely because there's something you haven't internalized yet. It could be new words, structures that don't make sense, or some annoying prepositions. 

When this happens, resist the urge to grab your grammar textbook. The goal isn't to know "why" a sentence is the way it is, the goal is to be able to use it. Once you internalize the structure, you'll start to notice it in more places, make connections, and figure out the "why" on your own. 

This is important because you're far more likely to remember things you discovered on your own than stuff you look up in a textbook. 

With that in mind, once you find a tricky structure, what you should do is take the structure for a "test drive" by trying it with different verb tenses, subjects, or quantities. 

What's a test drive? Here's an example:

How would you change the sentence "For the first time in years, I feel like I can improve." if you were talking about an event in the past? 

For the first time in years, I felt like I could improve. 

What if we were talking about months instead of years? 

For the first time in months, I felt like I could improve. 

What if it was a group of people who felt this way? 

For the first time in months, they felt like they could improve.  

What if you wanted to change the thing you feel like to "relax" instead of "improve"? 

For the first time in months, they felt like they could relax

You can also try to rearrange the order to see if it makes sense. 

They felt like they could relax for the first time in months. 

You can always ask a native speaker for feedback through an app like HelloTalk or HiNative if you're unsure. 

If you play with structures like this, you'll start to internalize them and no longer need to translate.  

After all, the next time you want to express that you feel a certain way for the first time in a long time, you can simply throw this frozen pizza into the oven.

Once you've taken a structure for a test drive, be sure to add it to your collection so that you don't forget how to use it.

Not sure what I mean by collection? Check out my video on how to improve your vocabulary.

You now have a strategy and an exercise you can do every day with any video or audio in English. The rest is up to you.

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