Sometime ago I wrote a post on thinking in a foreign language, which to me is one of the milestones of true fluency. Near the end of that article I briefly mentioned how I sometimes “pre-cache” Japanese phrases in my head before speaking, though I downplayed it at the time, and felt it was more of a crutch.
Recently I was on a business trip where I was away from my family, and when certain events occurred during the day I started imagining how I would describe these things to my wife later that night, either in email or phone. This was more than just topics, but rather the exact phrasing and words that I would use to communicate those things.
Though it was challenging and I wasn’t able to prepare everything in advance, I feel now that this is a valuable technique for getting yourself to think in a foreign language, as it is one of the rare times where you can practice recalling vocabulary and grammar rules without actually speaking to someone.
Another way I’ve fit more Japanese practice into my life is by describing things in Japanese to my son, who we are raising bilingually. Though he may not always understand or respond, it is great for his language development, and at the same time I am getting more practice speaking in Japanese. Without a native speaker around there is always the risk I would say something incorrect, but kids are smart enough to learn patterns they hear frequently, and I can always try and steer away from certain phrases which I am very uncertain about.
One of the more difficult techniques is just speaking to yourself outlaid in a foreign language. Besides the fact someone might think you are a little crazy, it’s hard to keep motivated and stay on track when you are alone.
Many of these things are hard to do for beginner students, but regardless of your ability I recommend you think about ways to integrate the foreign language you are studying as much as possible into your daily life.