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Learning English as a Foreign Language: Don’t Translate: II

Why Should You Stop Translating When You Learn English as a Second Language?

by Owen Fourie

Part Two

In the first part of this article, we looked at how important it is to stop translating and at how necessary it is to learn as a young child learns.

Let’s go on to see how necessary it is to think in English and how important it is to keep to the structure of a second language.

Form a new habit: Think in English

If you have been translating from English to your mother tongue and back to English, you will not find it easy to stop doing this.

You have to work hard to form the new habit of thinking in English and ‘switching off’ your mother tongue while you are busy with English.

That extra step—translating—has slowed down your progress. It is time to stop translating.

If you are asked a question in English,

  • think of the answer in English;
  • form your reply in your mind in English;
  • speak your answer in English;
  • use simple words;
  • don’t bring in the extra step of thinking of your answer in your mother tongue and then translating it into English.

Think of the matter like this: You understand and use your mother tongue without doing any translation. You need to understand and use English without any translation.

Translation will have its proper role when you are able to express yourself fluently in your mother tongue and in English.

Understand that each language has its own structure

In the early stages of learning English, if you depend on translation, you will have difficulty with structure.

It is important to understand that each language has its own structure in the way words are put together to make sense.

To make sense, each language must follow its own structure and not the structure of another language.

The structure of your mother tongue is more familiar to you.

When you translate literally, word for word, from your mother tongue into English, the structure of your native language will influence what you try to say in English.

This can frustrate you and your hearer when what you say is misunderstood.

See the problem in these examples

1. An Afrikaans student learning English

Teacher: What did the kitten do? Please tell me.

The student thinks in her mother tongue: Die katjie het die groot boom geklim en toe het dit op ‘n tak gesit.

The student might translate literally into English like this: The kitten did the big tree climb and then did it on a branch sit.

Correct answer in English: The kitten climbed the big tree and then it sat on a branch.

2. A French student learning English

Teacher: What did the kitten do? Please tell me.

The student thinks in his mother tongue: Le chaton a grimpé le grand arbre, puis il est assis sur une branche.

The student might translate literally into English like this: The kitten has climbed the big tree, then he is seated over a branch.

Correct answer in English: The kitten climbed the big tree and then it sat on a branch.

3. Some mistranslations are funny

The inexact translations above can still be understood. On the Internet, there are many examples of mistranslation where the meaning is unclear.

Some mistranslations are funny. Here is part of an instruction for a soap bubble gun. It is a translation from Japanese to English:

While solution is not toxic it will not make child edible.”

Make progress

To make progress in your understanding and use of English

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Your comments, observations, and questions would be most welcome. If you are learning or teaching English as a second language, tell us about your experiences, frustrations, and solutions.

Here are articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com

Thank you to Michael Dolberry for the French in this article as well as some useful points regarding the learning of a foreign language.

Stop Translating:

http://flabbergastenglish.blogspot.com/2011/06/stop-trying-to-translate.html

http://www.english-test.net/esl/lesson-plans/Stop_translating.html


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