How to Think in Spanish: 10 Mental Hacks to Become Fluent Faster
Speaking Spanish doesn’t automatically lead to thinking in Spanish.
Even after you have a solid grip on verb conjugations, are comfortable writing in Spanish and can understand your native-speaking friends, thinking in Spanish can prove difficult…but it’s not impossible.
Any learner can train their brain to think in Spanish with a few mental tricks and practice tips.
I’ll show you ten practical things you can do to learn how to think in Spanish and why “controlled thinking” is so important to making it a true habit.
- 1. Set Time to Block Out Your Native Language
- 2. Use Associations Instead of Translations
- 3. Read and Watch Authentic Spanish Media
- 4. Practice Writing in Spanish
- 5. Put Your Social Media in Spanish
- 6. Talk to Yourself in Spanish
- 7. Immerse Yourself in Spanish
- 8. Let Go of Limiting Ideas
- 9. Keep Learning More Spanish
- 10. Be Patient with Yourself
- How These Tips Help with “Controlled Thinking”
- And One More Thing…
1. Set Time to Block Out Your Native Language
Set a timer if you must—just make sure to allot specific segments of the day where you only think in Spanish. Hold internal conversations with yourself, sing songs in your head, tell stories, whatever—but do it all in Spanish.
To succeed, you’ll need to have realistic expectations, especially at the beginning. Don’t plan for two hours of exclusive Spanish thinking or you’ll quickly get frustrated and lose your motivation.
Choose reasonable pockets of time when you’ll dedicate yourself to ignoring any other language you know and only thinking in Spanish. Say just two minutes at first, then five, then ten… you get the idea.
2. Use Associations Instead of Translations
Form concrete associations with Spanish vocabulary. Connect Spanish words, expressions and ideas with feelings or images (instead of your native language) to convey meaning.
If you use flashcards to memorize new vocabulary, put pictures on the back rather than translations. When you look up on a sunny afternoon, take note of the sol (sun) and how caliente (warm) you feel.
Try labeling objects around your home with their corresponding Spanish word. It might sound silly, but you’ll quickly see that it works!
You can even cut out the busywork of making labels and get straight to absorbing Spanish with resources like Vocabulary Stickers. You’ll get more than 130 durable (and removable) Spanish labels for all kinds of household items. They’re even color coded for grammatical gender!
3. Read and Watch Authentic Spanish Media
Reading in Spanish is a great way to build thinking skills if you concentrate on comprehending without translating. Language learners typically translate as they read, so do your best to not do this—use the vocabulary you have to master simply reading in Spanish. A Spanish dictionary (not a bilingual dictionary!) will be helpful if and when you get stuck.
Television is also a great tool! Spanish telenovelas can help you learn to think in Spanish if you don’t try to translate and instead just watch, fall into the story and absorb the action as naturally as possible.
Watching authentic Spanish can be tricky, though, so it may be helpful to watch with subtitles. You can also start with shorter Spanish videos at first and work your way up to more complex viewings, like full films.
With authentic media, you can immerse yourself in the language and make your studies both challenging and engaging. Once you find content that interests you, it can be much easier to actively incorporate Spanish thinking into your daily life.
4. Practice Writing in Spanish
Journaling will help you transition from translating to thinking. Every morning and/or evening, write about your day in Spanish. Writing thoughts out means you’ve got to think—if you’re writing in Spanish, you’re thinking in Spanish.
Another writing exercise that encourages thinking in Spanish is sharing thoughts old-school with a pen pal. Writing to a native Spanish speaker not only forces you to think in Spanish, but it’s also a great way to pick up cultural references and social nuances.
Remember, don’t translate the letter—write it naturally, thinking of what you want to say as you’re writing. Again, keep a Spanish dictionary at your side if you’re lost for words.
5. Put Your Social Media in Spanish
We’re pretty much all attached to social media, so it makes sense to use it to ramp up language learning opportunities. Set all your apps and browsers to Spanish mode so no English shows up.
Once you’ve done that, start browsing and clicking like a Spanish speaker. Follow Spanish-speaking celebrities, “like” Spanish-language posts and start bookmarking some Spanish blogs.
Focus on language learning whenever you’re online. There’ll be time for funny cat videos later!
6. Talk to Yourself in Spanish
Talk to yourself out loud. Yes, it’s a valid way to begin to think in Spanish, but again, don’t translate—just talk! The more you use the language, the more likely you’ll naturally transition to thinking in it.
Name items in the house, on the street, in the market or anywhere else, keeping up a steady stream of Spanish for yourself. Your tangible associations will help you quickly remember the words next time you need them (that’s tip number two in action!).
After you’ve written your daily Spanish journal entry (tip four), try reading it aloud. Not only will this help keep your mind in Spanish mode, it’ll also give you some pronunciation practice.
7. Immerse Yourself in Spanish
If you can study or live abroad, that’s your best bet for learning how to think in Spanish as quickly as possible. If you have to use the language to get food and other necessities, there’s a much higher chance it’ll stick and become your go-to in your head as well.
You don’t have to leave the country to immerse yourself, however. You can see if there are nearby restaurants with Spanish-speaking staff and Spanish menus. Perhaps there are local events held in Spanish, or even religious services you can attend.
Of course, you don’t even have to leave your house to immerse yourself in Spanish! There are plenty of at-home language immersion programs you can use, too. One example that’s chockful of authentic content is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
8. Let Go of Limiting Ideas
Don’t focus on thinking with completely perfect grammar. Think in Spanish as it comes naturally in order to keep up that constant stream of consciousness you’re aiming for. You can always double-check things after your “no native language” timer goes off.
If you’re really struggling to put sentences together, though, that probably means you need to get more Spanish input—the more you hear the language as it’s used by native speakers, the more the patterns of it will stick in your brain and appear when you need them.
In the same vein, try not to get hung up on asking “why” questions. Questions like “why does the adjective come after the noun?” or “why do I use this verb form instead of the one I’d use in English?” may be interesting to some, but they’re not very helpful. The answers usually aren’t very relevant, either.
If you find yourself doing this, try to ask a “how” question in its place, as in: “How do I remember that adjectives typically follow nouns?” and “How can I practice this type of sentence so I get used to the Spanish verb form?”
9. Keep Learning More Spanish
Continuing to improve your language skills will make thinking in Spanish easier for you. You’ll gain new and better ways to express your thoughts across a wide variety of subjects.
When you practice thinking in Spanish, write down things you couldn’t figure out so you can look them up later. Don’t forget to review them so they’ll stick next time you want to use them.
Working on your various Spanish language skills—reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, grammar—will make the language more natural for you. Eventually, with enough time, you won’t have to wonder how to think in Spanish…you’ll just do it!
10. Be Patient with Yourself
Thinking in Spanish—or any foreign language—is a process. It requires intentional, mindful training.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re serious about it and apply even just some of the exercises above, it can happen. Then, you’ll be daydreaming in Spanish, dreaming at night in Spanish and thinking in Spanish whenever you want.
How These Tips Help with “Controlled Thinking”
Most people learn a second language initially through translations. We see the Spanish word ventana and learn that it means “window.”
But you can’t be fluent if you’re always translating.
Thinking—without translating—is what you need for real fluency. For learners who are totally immersed in Spanish (say, in a Spanish-speaking country), this process is natural. They’re forced to use Spanish all day, every day, and can’t use their native language as a crutch.
For the rest of us, controlled thinking is the key. In essence, we can apply strategic mental tricks to suppress translations and prioritize Spanish in our internal monologues.
The ultimate goal is to stop relying on translations and to make Spanish thinking a more natural, even habitual, process. You’ll eventually see a window and think of the word ventana instantly, without starting in English, by practicing how to think in Spanish with the tips above.
The information in this post should get you automatically thinking in Spanish sooner than you might think (pun intended!), and you’ll be well on your way to being fluent in this language.
¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)
And One More Thing…
If you've made it this far that means you probably enjoy learning Spanish with engaging material and will then love FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
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