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Dialogue Practice as “Thinking”: Foreign Language Learning Through Inner Speech (Theory)

text: Kikuchi Haruka


In this article, I will discuss how inner speech, the “voice inside your mind,” can be put to use in foreign language speaking practice.

My past experience of English conversation practice “inside my mind” enabled me to speak more fluently thereafter. I hope this will serve as one proposal for concerns such as limited opportunities to speak foreign languages or lack of confidence in speaking to begin with.

What is inner speech?

Let’s do an experiment. Try reading this English word silently.


Op...? Of...? The answer is something like “oph-thal-mol-o-gist,” meaning an eye doctor.

Right now, let’s focus not on the meaning of the word, but on what happened in your mind when you were reading it. Did you hear the sound of the word while trying to read the complicated spelling? Op... ophthal... and so on.

That sound in your mind actually has a name: it’s called “inner speech.” Inner speech is said to be effective in language learning; here I will introduce its specific effects.

Inner speech refers to the words you think inside your mind when you attempt to do something by yourself (trying to pronounce a word, in the example above). You can think of it as talking to yourself, but without actually using your voice.

For example, some people hear the text of the book they are reading in their minds as they read. Or there’s counting. Have you ever counted in your mind when you can’t speak out loud?

Or at a job, you might hear the work procedure in your mind while getting used to a new task. This is inner speech. Does it sound familiar?

What are the effects of inner speech?

How is inner speech effective in language learning? Let’s look at it step by step.

1) Rehearsal effect
You repeat and imitate in your mind the words and expressions you have heard or read, along with their meaning. So, when you actually use them, you can figure out what grammar, pronunciation, or situation is appropriate.
2) Reading comprehension promotion effect
By performing inner speech while reading silently and reflecting on the phonetic aspects as well, rhythm, intonation, and emphasis are added, promoting comprehension.
3) Memory effect
Words used as inner speech are more likely to be retained in short-term memory.
4) Speed-reading effect
Thinking using inner speech tightly compresses the meaning of the content, increasing reading speed.
5) Problem-solving effect
By connecting unfamiliar words to their sound when reading out loud, their meaning will naturally become audible later on.

How do we make use of these functions in dialogue practice? Find out in the preparation and practice sections!

Kikuchi Haruka

Born and raised in Osaka. Osaka University Graduate School of Language and Culture Master’s Course 1st Year. I study second-language acquisition theory while working as a teacher of English conversation for children. As an undergraduate, I used to study English while listening to CDs of my beloved Broadway musicals.