For those of you that are native English speakers, but have become "conversational" in Spanish, did you often try to "think in English" first and try to translate on-the-fly for each sentence or word? I think that will be something I stop doing once I just have a lot more speaking experience?

4 Answers 4


I am an adult learner who was fortunate to be able to spend various short periods in Spanish-speaking countries and became confident speaking, which I take it is what you mean by conversational. I am never conscious of thinking first in English and then translating. To put it rather bluntly there just is not time, you just open your mouth and words come out just as they do in English. One interesting phenomenon is that if I am trying to speak in a third language I sometimes insert the right word in the wrong language, so a Spanish word in a German sentence. I would not do that if I was thinking ahead and translating.

  • All that is fine and good, if you have the level to do it. It is not a beginner's thing.
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2022 at 17:53

My memory of this is dim. When I was six years old, my family moved to Chile. I started going to school where the school was run by British expatriates and most of the pupils were Chilean. In about two years, I was speaking Spanish about as well as English. The fact that I was still learning my native language had an impact.

I would guess, although I don't remember, that I was no longer thinking in English when speaking Spanish.

This learning experience is completely different from what most people go through. They don't start until their teens of later, and they don't get the near total immersion I got. I'll let them speak for themselves.


Yes and No. I have done this in French when I worked in France for 6 months. I looked up important words before I went out to a restaurant, bank or the shops. Then when I was actually in the restaurant the words would come naturally as you say and I would see how far I would get and if I could last the whole evening in the restaurant in French. The one occasion I remember being stuck was in a bank when it came to writing the numbers and the date out on a cheque, I did not know them and had not looked them up. So I think I must have asked the cashier to help me. The most useful words are as always "comment dites-vous cela en français s'il vous plaît"


I think I try to construct a sentence with the Spanish I know and then fill in the gaps with Google Translate or an English word.

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