How to Think in Spanish: 7 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 Spanish-speaking friends, thinking in Spanish can prove difficult…but not impossible.

Any Spanish learner can train his or her brain to start thinking in Spanish with a few mental tricks.

We’ll show you seven practical hacks you can use to make this happen—and they’re all based on the very important idea of controlled thinking.


Why You Need to Start “Controlled Thinking”

Most people learn a second language initially through translations. We see the word ventana and we learn that it means “window.”

But you can 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 (like anyone living 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 Spanish word ventana instantly, without starting in English.

Now that you’ve been introduced to this concept, we’ll show you some specific ways you can use controlled thinking in Spanish every day.

How to Think in Spanish: 7 Mental Hacks

1. Set Time to Block Out Your Native Language

Set a timer if you must, but allot specific segments of the day where you don’t think in any other language. Hold internal conversations with yourself. Sing songs in your head. Tell stories to yourself—but do it all in Spanish.

This time should be dedicated to intentionally thinking in Spanish.

At first, don’t set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. You’re just acquiring the technique of thinking in a new language, so don’t plan for two hours of exclusive Spanish thought or you’ll quickly get frustrated and lose your motivation.

Choose reasonable pockets of time when you’ll dedicate yourself to thinking in Spanish. Say 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 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 you feel caliente (warm).

Try setting up an immersive environment in your own home by labeling objects with their corresponding Spanish word. It might sound silly, but you’ll quickly see 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 (but removable) Spanish labels for all kinds of household items, from kitchen utensils to clothes to technology.

Plus, they’re color coded for grammatical gender, which is especially helpful for anyone trying to start thinking in Spanish. The visual aid will help cement each word’s gender in your mind naturally.

3. Watch and Read Authentic Spanish Media

Reading in Spanish is a great way to build thinking skills if you concentrate on comprehending without translating.

It’s a new sort of reading, this step in the process. Language learners typically read and translate, and now you’ll do the opposite. Read, but don’t translate—use the vocabulary you have to master this endeavor. A Spanish dictionary (not a bilingual dictionary) will be helpful when you get stuck.

Television is also a great tool! Telenovelas can help with thinking in Spanish if you, again, don’t try to translate. Just watch, fall into the story and absorb the action as naturally as possible.

Watching authentic Spanish can be tricky, though, especially if you don’t understand everything you hear. Because of that, you should aim to watch with subtitles. You can also start first with shorter Spanish videos, which you can easily find online, though it’s not always guaranteed that they come with accurate captions.

Another resource for learning with authentic media is the language learning program FluentU. It takes bite-sized Spanish videos and combines them with interactive subtitles that explain the vocabulary used, and these captions can be turned on and off at any time. You can review the words you learn with multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes that accept both spoken and written input.

With Spanish 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 into your daily life.

4. Try 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, 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 all attached to social media, so it makes sense to use it to ramp up every available language opportunity. Set all your apps and browsers to their Spanish language mode so no English shows up.

Once you’ve done that, start browsing and clicking like a Spanish speaker. Follow Spanish-speaking celebrities on Twitter, “like” Spanish-language pages on Facebook 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, that’s a valid way to begin to think in Spanish. Don’t translate—just talk! The more you use the language, the more likely it is that your transition to thinking will occur in an almost natural wave.

Name items in the house, on the street, in the market and everywhere else, keeping up a steady stream of Spanish in your head. Make tangible associations with phrases so they’re quickly remembered the next time you need them.

And when you’re writing your daily Spanish journal entry (see tip number four), try reading it aloud as well. Not only will this help keep your mind in Spanish mode, it’ll also give you some pronunciation practice.

7. 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 some of the exercises above, it can happen. Then, you’ll be daydreaming in Spanish—and eventually, dreaming at night in Spanish, too.


Bilingual speakers code switch, which means that according to the situation, they move between languages. Code switching shows it’s possible to think in more than one language.

The switch is possible—and it’s also achievable to mimic that ability even if you’re not a heritage speaker.

These tips for controlled thinking should get you automatically thinking in Spanish sooner than you might… think! From there, you’ll be well on your way to learning how to speak Spanish fluently.

¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

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