When you start learning a language, translating in your head is a natural and necessary thing to do. It can even be useful. However, if you are at a higher level and you really want to progress further, it’s a habit you should try to break. Keep reading to find out why and how to do it.
Why should I stop translating? What's the problem with it?
1. Because it slows you down. If you think about what to say in your language and then translate it, it’s obviously going to take you longer to say everything.
2. Because some words and phrases just don’t really translate well. For example, Polish people say “nie skodzi” which literally means “it doesn’t hurt” but an English person would say “never mind”, “don’t worry” or “that’s OK”.
3. Because one word in your language doesn’t always have one translation in English. It’s not as simple as that. A word in your language might have two or more different translations in English. For example, a lot of students confuse “check” and “control” because it’s the same word in their language. The same thing happens with “possibility” and “opportunity”. The opposite is also true although perhaps less of a problem. I never understood the difference between “pieczarki” and “grzyby” in Polish because they are both “mushrooms” in English. This was confusing for me but not a problem for a Polish student learning English. Have you ever tried translating prepositions? You will very quickly discover that it doesn’t work. For example, “en” in Spanish can be “in”, “on” or “at” in English.
4. Because word order is not the same in every language. If you translate everything, you are like to make mistakes with your word order.
So to summarise, if you translate everything, it will slow you down and you will make more mistakes. So what’s the answer?
You need to start thinking in English. “OK, Katie,” I hear you say, “But how do I start thinking in English?!”
1. First you need to expose yourself to as much English as you can. Read articles online, watch movies in English, listen to English songs. Change the default language on your phone or computer to English. Even better, find English-speaking friends or get a job where you have the chance to use English at work. Visit an English speaking country for a holiday.
2. Practise speaking as much as you can. Try to find a class, a friend or a language partner. The more you practise, the better and faster you will become. If you want to become more fluent, it doesn't matter if you talk to a native speaker, a non-native speaker or the dog! If you really can’t find anyone to talk to, read the next suggestion.
3. When you have nobody to talk to, talk to yourself, out loud if you like or in your head. Describe your actions as you do them or tell yourself what you did today or what you’re going to do tomorrow. Tell yourself what you can see around you or think about the book you just read or the film you just saw. Maybe you can even make up conversations in your head. Make it a habit to do this for 5 or 10 minutes a day, before you go to bed, when you’re on the bus or when you’re doing the housework.
4. Try using a monolingual learner’s dictionary such as macmillandictionary.com or dictionary.cambridge.org. These dictionaries give good example sentences as well. If you have a vocabulary notebook, try writing explanations in English instead of translations.
5. Try writing your thoughts in English. Write about your day or your weekend. Write your to-do list or your shopping list in English.
I know all of this is difficult to do but it is possible with hard work and determination. I wish I could give you an easier answer but there really isn’t one. Try to think and/or speak in English for a few minutes every day and don’t give up. Keep doing it until it gets easier.
When I was a child, we had an Austrian friend who came to stay with us. One morning she came downstairs really excited because she had had a dream in English! This could be you too if you work at it!
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