How important is translation in language learning?
Can translation help you learn a language? Or is it a complete waste of time? There are arguments on both sides of the debate.
Against using translation
The best way to learn a language is to read it, listen to it and use it. By doing translation exercises, you’ll have less time for these useful activities. Translating can turn you into a lazy learner. When you come across a word you aren’t sure of, it’s better to try to guess the meaning rather than looking up the translation. Studies have shown that if you make an effort to understand the meaning of a word, you’ll remember it more easily. If you really do need to check the meaning of a word, find a definition of it in English and read that. This will help you start to think in English – an important step in language acquisition.
Translating when you’re speaking in a conversation is counterproductive. For a start, there’s no time. Conversations are mostly spontaneous, dynamic and fast-paced. People will soon lose patience if you start trying to translate. When you’re speaking, it’s better to explain things with the words you already know. For example, if you can’t remember the word for “hammer”, try to explain what it means: “The thing you use to hit a nail when you’re putting up a picture”. The same is true when you’re writing – use the language you know and avoid translating, or you’ll end up producing text that doesn’t make much sense.
In favour of using translation
Translation is a useful strategy for learners of all levels. For beginners, it’s a useful platform to base their new language on. For other levels, it’s a quick and effective way to find out what a word means. Why spend minutes trying to understand or explain a word when you can look up the translation in a question of seconds? Translating can be fun, too. There are lots of great ways to use translation to help you learn a language. For example, you could work out the translation of short pieces of text such as newspaper headlines, slogans, everyday expressions, film taglines or signs in English. Or you could discuss with a colleague how to translate useful idioms or phrases, focusing on translating the overall meaning, not the individual words.
Reverse translating can be beneficial too. And it’s easy to do. First, create a list of useful sentences – the sort of language you need when you’re talking. You could find these in audio scripts of conversations in English. For example, “I went to the cinema / She’s bought a new car / They’re going to leave at six.” Then, translate these sentences into your language. Later, cover up the original English sentences, read over your translations and try to translate them back into English.
Do you think translation has a part to play in language learning?
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• a waste of time exp = a useless activity; an activity that doesn’t bring any benefits
• lazy adj = someone who is “lazy” doesn’t make any effort and doesn’t want to work
• to guess vb = if you “guess” the meaning of something, you imagine what it means, even though you aren’t sure
• language acquisition n = the process of learning a language
• counter-productive adj = something that’s “counter-productive” produces the opposite result to the one you want
• spontaneous adj = something that’s “spontaneous” just happens and isn’t planned or arranged
• dynamic adj = new, exciting and full of energy
• fast-paced adj = quick, not slow
• a hammer n = a tool that consists of a piece of heavy metal at the end and a wooden handle. You can use it to hit nails or break things
• to work out phr vb = if you “work out” the meaning of something, you discover its meaning
• a tagline n = a short phrase used in advertising; a slogan
• beneficial adj = something “beneficial” is good and positive for you
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