STOP TRANSLATING!!! DESCRIBE, DEFINE and EXPLAIN the meaning IN CONTEXT! - Susan’s Student Tips
Did you know that TRANSLATING is very BAD FOR your FLUENCY and generally for learning to speak English well? Now why is that?
Well, translating is really, really bad for your fluency because in other languages or in every language, actually, the WORDS are PUT TOGETHER in DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS so no language will have the same combination of words to express an idea, to express the concepts and therefore translating makes no sense because you will have the exact meaning very often word for word but when you want to reuse that expression, you'll put together the words that you have in your mind, you'll translate them and not necessarily put them together in the correct order.
So what does that mean? Let me give you an example: for years I've been fighting a problem that many of my students have when they talk or write about themselves and the typical phrase they say is: "my family is composed of four members" or "my family consists of four people", in any case always wrong compositions of words, so what should one really say?
One should really say "there are four people in my family" that's what a native speaker would say or "there are four of us in my family" or "my family is made up of four people". The other words are technically and grammatically correct but no native speaker would say them so it makes no sense to use words that don't sound natural, that no native speaker would say. That's why translating is really, really bad and the only way to overcome this is to IMMERSE yourself IN THE LANGUAGE, first of all but secondly to make sure that you USE DEFINITIONS RATHER THAN TRANSLATIONS that so when you don't know what something means, look it up in the dictionary of the same language you are studying, for example English-English and look for the definition or ask a person what it means by explaining it to you, defining it so at that point you'll have the expression embedded in your mind in the correct format and you won't make a mistake - you'll just learn" there are four people in my family" or "there are four of us in my family" and you won't even think of using any other expression.
Translating should be used at a very, very high level when you are really advanced to understand abstract concepts which are not so easy to define so I'm not saying that translating is absolutely wrong but certainly it should be used for the very occasional word which doesn't fit in any context that you can define and understand, so practically very rarely.
Another example I can give you is that there was an expression when I moved to Germany which I presumed meant something and I never ever translated it because it fitted into every context really, really well. However, after three years this word didn't fit into that particular context, so I looked it up in the dictionary and what I had interpreted as its meaning was ninety percent of the time correct but there was a ten percent possibility of using a meaning which was similar to that one but not identical and that's where I needed to use the dictionary because it didn't make any sense to me. In any case, that took place three years after having heard and used this expression perfectly correctly in all contexts.
So FORGET TRANSLATING! Try and immerse yourself in the language, listen to a programme, sing songs but also looking at the lyrics so you pick up what I call blocks or chunks of language. It's the chunks you have to learn in the correct sequence of words and then you won't make any mistakes because you'll be saying the complete chunk correctly just very naturally the same way as any native speaker would do so.
Therefore that's what I recommend: don't translate, pick up the language by listening, repeating, absorbing the language just as children would do; children absorb the language without translating - they just pick it up from the context. Follow my advice and improve your English!
I hope you find this useful.
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My name is Susan Brodar, born in London into a multilingual family and brought up bilingual English / Italian.