My Finnish teacher and my friends keep telling me that I should stop translating everything from English to Finnish and start thinking in Finnish instead. I have no clue how to do that. How do I start thinking in another language?
This is an area of language learning that I find fascinating, thank you for the great question! In this post, I’ll share what works for me as a language learner, and what many of my students have also found helpful.
Thinking practice. Set a timer for 5 minutes and do your best to think in Finnish for that period of time. You will, inevitably, think in other languages as well, but any time you notice it bring yourself back to the effort of thinking in Finnish. At first, it may be that you aren't able to think in Finnish at all, but when you keep going, you'll start to notice it getting easier and easier. However, a caveat with this one: not everyone has an inner monologue where they “speak” a specific language in their head, in which case I recommend the next technique.
Talking to yourself. Another really helpful technique is to talk to yourself out loud in Finnish for a set period of time. Even one minute a day, five days a week, does wonders. If you want to speak with any fluency, you can’t do a lot of translating, so talking out loud almost forces you to start thinking in Finnish.
Talking to others. No matter how difficult this may seem at first, start speaking Finnish in real life situations, even if it's just a few words a day. Remember that there's no shame in having to switch to another language when you need to, but try to stick to Finnish as best you can.
Reading in Finnish. Regular reading in Finnish has the benefit of almost automatically switching your thoughts to Finnish. I recommend you start with a selkokirja, a novel in easy Finnish. My personal favorite is Yösyöttö by Eve Hietamies (original novel) and Hanna Männikkölahti (easy Finnish adaptation). Another great option is following the news in easy Finnish.
All of these techniques work best if you can build them into your daily routine. I’m trying to get better at speaking French, so I spend the walking or biking distance between my child’s daycare and my office either thinking in French or speaking it out loud. I avoid weird looks by having my headphones on, so it looks like I’m talking on the phone or taking a Zoom call (or, if I’m feeling confident, I’ll ditch the headphones and embrace the weird looks). I also know many French people living in Helsinki who are kind enough to want to speak French with me, so I also do my best to speak French every week.
Readers, what’s your experience? How did you make the switch from translating to thinking in Finnish? Were you able to start thinking in Finnish right at the start of your learning journey, or was it a process that took some time? What worked for you?
Picture by Finmiki