When I began taking French in the 3rd grade, I was excited about the prospect of a new language. I learned the vocabulary, studied the verb forms, and began structuring fractured sentences. As I entered my high school years, however, I was asked more difficult prompts and given more demanding tasks. When I took on my first French essay, I was overwhelmed. I read the material, and began thinking about exactly what I wanted to say—in English. I structured sentences and paragraphs in English and then attempted to translate them, word for word, into French.
When I got my first essay back, I was less than pleased with the grade. I couldn’t understand why I had done so poorly. When I met with my teacher, she gave me valuable input: “To write in French, you must think in French.” This advice made all the difference. As I proceeded with future essays, I tried to adapt my writing process from one in English to one in French. I began to use different techniques that better suited a new language. Instead of being stuck in English patterns of thought, I began to plan, outline, think, and write in French. The result was a more coherent and authentic essay.
As a tutor, I think this “thinking” in a new language is of essence. Trying to force a new language out of an old frame of thought is awkward and formulaic. Trying to encourage a different outlook will give students the freedom to invent a new process that better suits their personal needs.