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How to Stop Translation in Your Head When Learning English?

Fluency in English requires thinking in English. Translating in your brain is difficult in instances where you need to process information quickly and respond swiftly. It makes you pause. You can miss out on a conversation because you’re still trying to translate. Not to mention, slangs, idioms, and phrasal verbs might take a long time to translate. It’s best to stop translating your thoughts and start thinking in English. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the pitfalls of translating English in your language in your head. Also, we’ll discuss practical tips you can use so you can learn English more effectively.

Is Translating In Your Head Good or Bad?

Remember, translating in your brain is a habit that will come in handy when learning a foreign language. Nevertheless, if you rely on it excessively, you’ll be saddled in the long run. 

It’s not that bad to translate in your brain. The habit of mental translation is helpful when learning a foreign language for the first time. It aids in the development of your vocabulary and the identification of areas in which you are deficient.

For example, when it comes to riding a bike, John needs to “bite the bullet” and overcome his phobia. Getting something done because it’s unavoidable doesn’t necessitate John biting the bullet. It’s not easy to translate English words in your mind, but it’s not impossible either. Understanding the meaning of a word or phrase is preferable to interpreting it.

Why Do You Need to Stop Translating?

It takes twice as long to digest information and searches for English equivalents. Consider a group conversation or business gathering where everyone takes turns speaking. When it’s your turn, you remain quiet for a few moments to allow for translation, which is not a good habit.

Languages vary. There are terms, slang words, and idioms in English that have no counterpart in other languages. English grammar is also distinctive. There is no rhyme or reason to the word order. It occurs when speakers do not know English or their native language well. 

For example, second language learners often mix up the meanings of “leave” with “abandon.” Mistranslation may have disastrous consequences. Even if you discover comparable phrases or structures, they may not fully convey the speaker’s meaning.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter, President Jimmy Carter went to Poland with a Russian translator. But the interpreter was too prepared in the target language. “When I left the United States” and “Your desire for the future”, he mistranslated Carter’s words as “When I abandoned the United States and your lust for the future”. The incident caused quite a stir and a few chuckles, and President Carter’s teams had to work hard to contain the damage.

10 Tips to Help You Stop Translating English in Your Head

The act of translating from and into your original language was a natural part of your English learning experience when you first began. As you advance, you should shift from understanding and thinking in English to thinking and comprehending in English.

1. Use Phrases or Sentences (not word)

Learning whole sentences is much more beneficial than memorizing single words. Full sentences teach you the definition of a word and how to put it to good use.

You’ll get a better understanding of how the term is used in connection to other words, which will help you think more naturally in English. You’ll indirectly improve your grammar and learn how to use prepositions properly.

The English idiom boil the ocean‘ is a good example. Even when we break this term down into individual words, the meaning isn’t always clear. 

2. Understand The Context

The ability to translate effectively necessitates an understanding of the context. You’ll stop translating in your head and improve your English skills once you grasp the context. 

The context of a phrase or statement affects its meaning. It is heavily linked to the context in which communication occurs. Context is important in translation since one word may have a varied meaning depending on the context in which it is used. 

A thorough comprehension is necessary for effective translation. Although a sentence or text is formed of words and phrases, it takes thought and comparison to the surrounding sentences to comprehend its meaning. 

Numerous words can function as verbs or nouns, and if you are merely given a list of words to translate, it will be challenging to determine which form or meaning to use. 

For example, if you have the term “submit” and know that it appears at the bottom of a page where the user is prompted to enter information and click a button to submit it, you know how to translate the verb appropriately. On the other hand, the verb originates from an authority in which the protagonist is given two choices – “to resist” or “to give in,” the verb already has an entirely different meaning.

3. Avoid Using Translating Dictionaries

A monolingual dictionary like any English to English or Thesaurus is a tool that displays numerous definitions of words, symbols, and other information to assist English learners in comprehending technical terms and expanding their vocabularies during the teaching and learning process of reading comprehension of factual report texts.

Using translated dictionaries from your native language to English will assist you in developing your English skills, but only slightly, as some words have multiple meanings.

The best example of this is the word “salvage“. To salvage” in the Philippines means “to kill” that person, which is the polar opposite of the normal meaning of “salvage,” which is “to save“.

4. Learn to Associate Meaning of Words

As an alternative to translating, understanding how to associate the meaning of words would undoubtedly assist you in improving your English language skills.

Consider the word “coffee” as an example, commonly linked with hot liquids such as tea or coffee of many varieties, including decaffeinated and regular. Sugar, cream, and flavorings are widely connected with the word “coffee.”

5. English Language Exposure

The crucial step in the language learning process is exposure to English in a proper context. Language is designed to facilitate communication. Knowing a language isn’t enough if you don’t use it daily. 

Another critical aspect of learning a language is the use of language for various reasons. Being exposed to an English-speaking environment or surrounding yourself with English-related objects (books, videos, podcasts, etc.)  will undoubtedly cause you to abandon the translation strategy that will improve your English language skills.

For instance, make notes as you’re reading or listening to learn things. If you’re unsure about the meaning of a word, write it down and look it up in the English dictionary. You might want to jot down some of the beneficial phrases and read them out to yourself. When compared to mental translation, listening and reading in English is a thousand times more effective.

6. Think in English

Translating in your head is a huge difficulty during discussions and other circumstances where you need to digest information rapidly and respond immediately. It makes you go more slowly and become hesitant as a result. 

You may lose out on essential parts of a conversation because your opportunity to jump in has passed, and you’re still translating in your head. On top of that, it’s tough to translate slang, idioms, and phrasal verbs

It’s a basic but effective strategy to think in English. It’s fantastic because it doesn’t necessitate any planning or take a significant amount of time. 

For instance, it’s always a good idea to spend five minutes in the morning or evening talking to yourself about what you accomplished today or what you plan to accomplish tomorrow and make sure to think about it in English. 

7. Converse in Simple English (Step by Step)

It’s challenging to communicate well in English if you’ve just started learning the language. Even if you have memorized unlimited vocabulary, mastered grammatical rules, and read books entirely in English, you may still struggle to explain yourself. 

One method of preventing you from interpreting words in your head is to communicate in simple English whenever possible. 

To begin, when conversing in English, utilize easy-to-understand and straightforward words. Being uneasy while speaking in a language other than your original tongue is normal. Still, if you maintain communicating in simple English, you’ll see improvements in your English as time goes on.

The next thing you need to remember is to slow down when communicating. Take your time and reduce the speed at which you speak. Nevertheless, speaking at a slower pace allows you to deliberate over your words and answers before responding.

Next, remember to pay attention to what other people have to say. Even if you’re not taking part in the conversation, pay attention to what’s being said around you. Observing the body language, intonation, and accents of native English speakers can help you enhance your communication skills.

Ask questions to indicate that you understand the person you’re speaking to and what they’re saying. Asking questions keeps a discussion rolling and keeps you from having to do all the talking.

Finally, practice makes perfect. Therefore practice, practice, and more practice are essential if you want to get better. If you wish to improve your spoken English, speak with your family and friends in English or enroll in English-speaking classes. The more you do this, the better you’ll become at it, and you’ll soon find that you’re not mentally translating English anymore.

8. Get the Hang of Speaking English

Even though listening and reading exercises are beneficial, you must also engage with others in English and improve your speaking skill. If you’re fortunate enough to be friends with a couple of English speakers who can assist you, try to meet up with someone else who is also studying English to see if you can get some practice in. 

An example of an approach that can help you is to converse with yourself in the mirror or record yourself talking. Listening to the sound of your voice may feel a little strange at first, but you will soon discover that you have made mistakes that you were previously unaware of.

9. Integrate English In Your Daily Life

Integration is essential for transforming your way of thinking. This can be accomplished in various methods, ranging from playing background music in the other English language to temporarily relocating to another country entirely. 

If you have any family or acquaintances who are fluent in the English language, make an effort to communicate with them as much as possible. Additionally, you can find online friends on the Internet with whom to correspond.

Here are some examples of activities you can engage in while learning the English language: watching movies, television shows, or anything else in English; listening to podcasts, music, and audiobooks; reading stories in English; creating a to-do list written in English; and many other activities and activities.

10. Practice & Reinforcement 

It all comes down to practice and patience. Do not wait till you are in the presence of a native speaker before beginning your learning. You may get started right away. Begin by conversing with yourself in front of a mirror; subsequently, you can participate in a conversation group with people who are not native speakers. You can also practice by repeating the problematic words to duplicate, or even tongue twisters if you find them difficult.

Language is culture, and you can only really appreciate it if you spend time in the nation where it is spoken. Immersion in a foreign language improves learning because you may experience it with all your senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, taste, and, of course, speech.

Perhaps you’re on a limited budget and can’t afford to vacation abroad right now. That is not to say, however, that you cannot be absorbed in the English language. Numerous activities might help you immerse yourself in the target language. 

These activities may include labeling everything in English, watching English discussions or debates, translating your phone into English, watching films in English rather than your native tongue, and many more.

Final Thoughts

That concludes our list of tips and techniques for avoiding mental translation. We hope they are helpful. Even if it takes some time, if you keep practicing consistently, it will eventually happen naturally.

Even if some of these ideas may not work for you, the chances are high that others will stop you from translating English in your head. Try a few different approaches to find the one that works best for you, and then stick with it until you see the results you want to.

What methods have you used as an English-language learner to stop translating in your head? Let us know in the comments below.


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