Context: I'm a native English speaker learning French. I learnt some French at high-school, and was reasonably good at it, but let it slip and I'm now trying to get it back to that level, and my intention is to reach a level of fluency where I can hold a conversation on effectively any topic with a native french speaker.

So I'm about a 6 weeks into re-starting learning french, and recently I've been wondering about how I should be thinking when I'm doing listening exercises. Specifically, should I be thinking in French, or English? What I mean by this, is should I be hearing "poisson", and thinking in English "fish", or should I hear "poisson" and try to relate this to the concept of a fish, rather than the word in English? I am currently thinking in English, and I'm able to translate quick enough that as I don't typically lose any information, even whilst the speaker is still talking, but I'm worried that this is not the correct way to attain fluency. Any thoughts are welcome.

  • 4
    This should go on Language Learning SE.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 22:30
  • You "should" not think in a specific language in order to learn it better, I don't think that's how it works. It comes naturally when you reach a sufficient level, but it's more of a consequence than a cause.
    – Reyedy
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 7:26
  • @LukeSawczak I am a mod on Language Learning SE and the question would be on topic there (see also How to start thinking in a new language). However, if the question is on topic here, please ask M2CK if they would create an account on Language Learning SE if the question were migrated. (If not, the question would be orphaned there, which is not that nice.)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 13:33

1 Answer 1


Even if I use to be fluent in English, as a French native locator, I am not always thinking in English when I try to understand what I hear, or what I read.

But, I always think in English when I try to speak or write in English. I don’t think thinking in our native language and then translate it to the langage we try to communicate with is mandatory. It is something that will come, naturally, with the habits of using it.

The same way you do when you read. At first, you just convert the vowels & consonas, then phonemes, entire words… then the whole sentence or text block. And, trust me, the same way you do when you read written music. Note by note, then group of notes, then bars and even larger.

Just trust on yourself, and practice. It will come naturally.

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