In the language discussion section of the BollyWHAT? forums, I recently came across an excellent point about language learning.
Meredith, the founder and owner of the forum, said to a member asking for a translation of a particular English sentence: "BF, you say you understand a good deal of Hindi; hence I suspect you know more than you think when it comes to how things should sound in the language. Why don't you try thinking about how you'd express your idea in Hindi before you even make it explicit in English? I think this is generally the way we learn to be more fluent speakers: by letting go of the English and working within the Hindi to express ourselves."
Another member, omlick, who founded and runs a Yahoo! discussion group (of which I am a member) for intermediate and advanced students of Hindi, added the following: "Yes, that is exactly right. The trick is to think like a Hindi speaker, not an English speaker. That can take you a long way. I think that in English too, when we express things, we tend to overdo it with the complex language and the metaphors. Drop those first and simplify. Even if the Hindi sentence that you come up with doesn't seem so sophisticated, at least you get your thoughts across in the new language and that is a big step."
Meredith and omlick have hit on something that resonated with me more than I can say, and I've been thinking about it a great deal since. A key step on the road to fluency is to let go of familiar English idioms and start thinking about how thoughts are expressed in the acquired language (Hindi, in my case).
I've been starting to do this in my own Hindi composition and conversation, though not consciously. Thoughts that are expressed in English with the verb "to like" are commonly rendered in Hindi with a verb phrase that in word-for-word rendering means "to strike one as good". "I liked the movie" in Hindi would be film mujhe achchi lagi, "the movie struck me as good." This kind of "indirect" construction, where the subject of an English sentence is rendered as an object in Hindi, is extremely common. Where in English you would say "I know a little Hindi," in Hindi you'd say thoDi-si hindi mujhe aati hai, "a little Hindi comes to me." Where in English you'd say "I have a fever," in Hindi it's mujhe bukhaar hai, there is a fever to me. In English, "I'm hungry," but in Hindi, mujhe bhuukh lagi hai, "Hunger has struck me." And on and on and on.
This is just a small example of the mapping of English idiom onto Hindi idiom. Learning to think in Hindi - to think in these idioms, to have a natural feel for what type of Hindi construction best represents an English idiom - will take me within reach of proficiency. I can feel it starting to happen, and that's very exciting. And now I am off to go chat with a native speaker, so I can put that thinking into action.