Don’t think before you speak: on the gradual formation of thoughts during speech

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The common reproach: ‘think before you speak!’, epitomises an educational paradigm in which speech is only the act of transmission finalised ideas. In his inspiring short essay ‘On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts During Speech’ from 1805, the German writer Heinrich von Kleist challenged this approach when he described his habit of talking in order to think. Leaning on cognitive and philosophical theories that support Kleist’s intuitive insights, this study reads his essay as a practical guide in the learning paradigm that I call ‘speak-to-think’. While pedagogical theories have emphasised the importance of interpersonal dialogues and speech in the classroom for thinking and learning, I suggest that self-talk is a paradigmatic manifestation of speak-to-think, and a privileged learning method. Self-talk creates an internal dialogue that can promote meta-cognitive skills and critical thinking, while also challenging the normative perception of speech as a mere conduit for effective communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-373
Number of pages13
JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


FundersFunder number
Fulbright Fund
Minducate Center for the Science of Learning
Harvard University
Harvard Kennedy School
Tel Aviv University


    • Self-talk
    • Speech
    • Rhetoric
    • Metacognition
    • Dialogue
    • Dialogism


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