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Thinking in a Foreign Language

20 Oct

It’s often said that thinking or even dreaming in a foreign language is THE marker of genuine fluency, but is this actually true?  Cogito ergo sum.  Je pense donc je suis.  I think, therefore I am.   Descartes sure thought so, but how does this apply to thinking in additional languages?

Answering this question requires getting to the absolute basis of what makes up a language.  Are words merely symbols or labels which we affix meaning too – replacing one set of labels for another repeatedly until our neo-cortex finally chooses one over another automatically?  Or is language an alternate reality one steps into and out of, imbued with culture and context?  I pulled this interesting comment from an online discussion on a similar topic:

What makes language exciting is that each one divides up the world into sometimes overlapping categories or concepts but there are different “seams” and “patches” to every quilt — you can say things in German which cannot be said in English.    -Unknown

What a beautiful thought – the world as one big cozy quilt of overlapping language patches, each filling in where another falls short.  French is the language of lovers, Japanese for sound effects and English for sarcastic, utilitarian purposes?  But seriously..

Learning a new language is not just about rote memorization of vocabulary and phrases.  One has to memorize and intuit new sets of labels and labeling systems for everything around and within them.   Effective teachers use miming, images or symbols to illustrate the meanings of new words rather than offering handouts and translations into their native language – attaching a new word to a image or movement makes it easier to think of, rather than translate from.  Many language learning resources take advantage of this (consider Rosetta Stone for example).

Linguists suggest that dreaming and thinking in another language is a goal of language learning.  There isn’t a set amount of time that one has to study for before being able to do this.  What matters is the amount of time and consistent effort a person puts into learning the desired language and immersing themselves in language and culture of the language that counts.   Within a few months (to years.. ahem..) of learning a new language, a person may start to notice some of their inner dialogues are in the new language rather than thinking in their native language and then speaking the translations.

Learning a new language takes time, effort and motivation.  Every person will experience language learning differently and there is no one formula for fluency.

So, as they say in Korea… 화이팅! (Fighting!)^^



The Best Ways to Learn English

8 May

Students eager to add English to their language fluency repertoire often find themselves trying a variety of learning methods and materials looking for the magic key that will instantly make them good at English.

Films, TV programs, radio, books, music, private tutoring or even travelling overseas to participate in an intensive language experience and education program are all great ways to learn ESL with good results, depending on the sincere efforts of the learner.    I’ve had students employ some or all of these methods as part of their English-learning adventure, and while I can’t attest wholly to their individual effectiveness as this would truly depend on a list of nameable factors, I can pass along my suggestions as to what methods seem to be the most enjoyable and popular among my avid-ESL-learning students here in busy Seoul.


Sift, sift… What, then, is the BEST way to learn English?  Permit me to offer my humble opinions and then let’s take a closer look at this eye-popping Kaplan International Colleges infographic to see what results they’ve surveyed.

Learning English, or any language for that matter, is a fluid, ebb and flow process of learning, assessing, reflecting, forgetting, re-learning, focusing, taking time off for things that come up in life, re-strategizing, studying…. In other words, it is a human process.  We are each unique learners and bring our own lives to the process of language learning.  It isn’t easy and there isn’t a magic key.

  • A comprehensive approach with lessons and activities planned around the interests and needs of student is what I think is the path to successful, confident second-language use.
  • A focus on conversation/experience with a native speaker – either in group classes, 1-1 tutoring, or by travelling to an English Speaking country like the USA or Canada to infuse yourself into culture and language.

And now the bright and sparkly Kaplan International Colleges Infographic titled “How to Learn English”:

 After Thoughts: 

Only 8% of people think of Canada as an English study destination?  How sad…

Many of my students LOVE to study with the TV Program “Friends,” and find it applicable to real-life casual conversation.  Other popular ones, as this infographic demonstrates are CSI and Gossip Girl.

Films, yes, but I don’t know many who prefer using them over studying with a native speaker or using TV programs which are shorter and more manageable. Yet, they’re popular.  There are some difficulties for the educator to use movies as a basis for lesson planning for the classroom, but do-able.

Using music and song is a great way to learn idiomatic expressions and slang, therefore making it good for informal, everyday conversation and listening practice.  Especially great for the audio-linguistic learner.

Comics are popular in Korea, and after reading some inspiring ones, I love seeing younger students get really involved and creative making their own comics with imagination and spontaneous ENGLISH!

Great work Kaplan! ^^

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