All language learners (myself included) are faced with the challenge of producing language on the spot, whether it be during a casual conversation, while traveling, or on exam day.
What is the most common mistake we make? We think in our native language, and we try to find the equivalent in the target language. This "translation technique" not only slows down communication, but many times, it also results in miscommunication. Not everything can be translated literally, and you may find yourself making both grammatical and semantic errors.
So how can you start thinking in the language you are learning?!
- Associate images with new words.
When I learn a new word in Spanish or Italian, I immediately associate the image or feeling this word gives me. I do not associate it with an English word. For example, if I learn the word "pencil" in my target language, I immediately imagine a pencil in my mind. The colour, texture, its purpose. I never repeat its equivalent in English. Make flash cards in your target language without the translation into your first language. The next time you need to ask someone for a pencil, your mind will see the image and ask itself how it can communicate this idea to a person who speaks your target language.
- Live the experience -
This is much easier to do when you are living in a country that speaks your target language, however, it is still possible otherwise. The next time you are having a conversation with a friend or teacher and a new vocabulary word is mentioned, ask them to describe it to you in your target language, not in your first language. Try to remember their expression, why you were talking about this particular word or how you were feeling that day. The next time you come across that word, you will remember when and where you heard it from. Using the context provided, it I'll be easier to remember what it means.
- Binge on Netflix-
What has helped me most during the language acquisition process was an addictive television series. Choose a suspenseful series rather than a 30 minute episode of a comedy. Why? You are more likely to return to it if you want to know what happens. If you watch an entire series in your target language (subtitles permitted) you will be learning without even realizing it, as you will be interested in the storyline. Remember not to get stuck on every new word either, and work on understanding context rather the the specifics.