Okay, maybe forgetting your native language when you speak English is probably too extreme. We understand the world through our native languages, so we will never forget them 100%.
But did you know that your native language is blocking you from expressing yourself better in English? In academic studies about language learning, this is called L1 interference (first language interference).
We rely so much on the structures, ways of thinking, expressions, etc of our native language that it can be hard to speak another language.
When I speak with my friends who are also native English speakers, we can often finish each other’s sentences because we think in the same way, and we know which expression, or idea the person is trying to express.
It’s harder to do this with my clients, so I normally wait until they finish expressing their idea before I try to interpret what they were trying to say. If I try to interfere too early and help them, I might have their idea completely wrong! Also, if I interrupted too much with my own ideas, then my clients would never feel confident speaking with me!
The difficulty in expression comes from thinking too much in your native language. I know you cannot completely forget it, but also don’t try to search for words to translate something until it completely blocks you.
Also, direct translations might be confusing to someone who doesn’t know your native language.
Omg, my English is terrible! I’m missing so much vocabulary! Don’t look at me! I don’t want to be here anymore!
When we speak our native language, we search for words too. We search for the best way to express something. When we can’t remember a word or an expression, do we panic? Do we question our ability to speak our native language? Do we get nervous?
No, of course not. We find another way, we find other words.
You can do the same in English. Treat English like your native language.
My advice is to try expressing your idea again, but in a different way. Instead of translating, give an example. Give descriptions. It doesn’t matter if it takes longer. It only matters that you’re communicating in English. Your goal is to put an image in the listener’s mind that makes sense to them.
I have a client who did exactly that. She didn't know a word and instead of giving up, she explained it!
My client: I don't know the word. It's when you have to pay money as punishment.
Me: Ah yes. The word for monetary punishment is a 'fine'.
Mental images are the best!
Find time in your life to listen to or watch English-language content. I’m a busy person, so I listen to podcasts when I’m on the bus/subway, and I watch Youtube or Netflix when I have evenings off. I don’t have a lot of evenings off, but every little effort counts!
The more you listen, the more the structures, ways of thinking, expressions, etc of English will sound more natural in your head. The more natural it sounds, the more you will start thinking in English when you need to use it, instead of translating from your native language.
If you’re reading this blog, then I promise you that your level of English is good enough to forget about your native language. Holding onto a word, phrase, or expression in your native language, and struggling to translate it to English will only slow down your progress.
Instead, do this:
- Take a deep breath.
- Make a detour (try a different approach to what you want to say).
- Try again.
There are many ways to express the same thing. Don’t get stuck because you can’t translate one thing.
When do you find the time to consume English-language content? Has it helped you?