Do you ever stop listening to someone while they’re speaking because you’re too busy translating what they said? You are not alone! Lots of English language learners fall into the trap of language translation. The good news is you can learn to stop that slow translating process and move to true spoken English fluency with the strategies I set out in this English podcast lesson.
I know, it’s frustrating! We all start out with translation, but
translation prevents fluency! It seems counter-intuitive that the only way to learn a new language is to build a vocabulary and to do that you need to translate, but in doing this we prevent ourselves from becoming better the more we translate!
There is nothing wrong with this at the start of your language learning journey. The problem happens when you think scaling this skill up is the right way to continue getting better at English fluency.
Language is wine upon the lips.
⭐ Virginia Woolf
The best way to think about this is to imagine your early English language vocabulary as a set of tools you need to get your language learning started. Imagine that these tools help you build a bridge, but once you finish the bridge, you need to put the tools down and stop using them. Your focus should now be on using the bridge you’ve built.
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How does someone become fluent in English? Do you feel as though you’re a long way from being fluent in English? One of the things that language learners do that gets in the way of fluency - well, translation!
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
If you learned English in a traditional school or college environment, one of the things that you were probably asked to do, all the time - is translation - going between English and your language. Your homework may even have been translation. And what do you bring to every class? Your dictionary of course, so that you can do even more translating! And translation is fine at the beginning of learning a language, when you hardly know anything at all. But once you want to actually start to speak English, translation isn’t going to work!
You can’t translate fast enough to speak that way. You have to stop doing it. You have to stop translating and think in English! So this podcast tells you how to do this! Today I’m going to give you 7 tips to help you ‘stop translating and start thinking in English!’.
Before we start - don’t forget that you can support Adept English by subscribing to our channel or to our podcast. You can recommend us to other people, you can star rate us or even better, you could write a review for us! This will help more people find Adept English, just like you did - and it helps us gain more listeners.
If you’re going to stop translating, you need to understand basic English words first. We’ve all been there at the start of learning a language, when you know only a few words. And unless you’re learning English like a child, where all the adults around you are native speakers and are very invested in helping you speak English - so that’s very unlikely - you are going to need to translate English words to begin with.
You’re going to have to use a dictionary to understand things at the beginning. But - that’s only right at the beginning of learning a language. Once you get past being a beginner, stop with that dictionary! Stop relying on Google Translate as well! Looking words up should be an occasional indulgence, when you’re in a hurry. It’s much better to try and work out what a new word means from its context. And ‘context’, CONTEXT - that means ‘what’s around’.
Quite often you can work out the meaning of a word from its context. And this way, your brain stays in English while you do it, whereas translating takes you away from that ‘English part of your brain’ - we don’t want that! So look up words or use a dictionary or use Google Translate only as a last resort - and see if you can work out the meaning of a word from its context instead.
Now here you are listening to an Adept English podcast. To have any chance of being able to understand this podcast, you must already know quite a lot of English words! So you’re not at the beginning. And you’re doing exactly the right thing to develop your skills in English - you’re learning through listening.
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A young man listening to English lessons with headphones. A proven method for learning English that allows you to learn and use unfamiliar words, phrases, and sentences directly from English.
It’s important to listen to English that’s just about the right level for you - so that you can understand around 70 to 80% of what you hear. And if you listen to The Seven Rules of Adept English, our free course, you’ll also know that repeat listening, to the same thing, the same podcast, is really important too.
The % you understand will increase each time you listen. Learning through listening is the most important thing to help you get away from that urge to translate. So our podcasts are designed to keep your head thinking in English, even when you meet new words that you don’t understand. When you’ve listened enough times to a podcast so that you can understand most of it - it’s a good feeling. It makes you smile inside, because you know you’re making progress thinking in English.
OK, so you’re listening to English - what about speaking? It’s a fact that speaking a foreign language is much more difficult than understanding one. But again, if you’re trying to speak English, you’re not going to get very far if you’re translating. So why not start to use English phrases in your everyday life, English collocations as part of your normal vocabulary? Collocations, COLLOCATIONS - they’re words that usually go together in English - like ‘doing your homework’, ‘making the bed’ or ‘giving a speech’.
Find English phrases you enjoy - and use them. This idea reminds me of my French niece, whose French-speaking boyfriend would say ‘Good Lord!’ whenever something surprising happened. Find English collocations that you enjoy - and use them. Make English phrases your own.
You might talk about the weather and say ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ when you see wet weather or if it’s windy, you might comment ‘Uh! It’s blowing a gale’ or if you live in a part of the world which has hot weather, you might say ‘Ah! It’s scorching hot today!’.
Start to weave English collocations into your ordinary life - enjoy ‘a cup of tea’, ‘a slice of cake’ or a ‘quick coffee break’.
We learn best through context - and by ‘context’, I mean if you meet words in real-life situations, you’ll remember them much more easily that way. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to memorise those vocabulary lists that you teacher asked you to learn for a test in school. Unless we have real-world context for the words, the vocabulary that we’re learning, it’s hard to memorise. But - if you learn a language in context, this happens automatically. I’m quite good at road signs in French.
Why? Because I’ve done a lot of driving in France - I’ve seen the same road signs hundreds of times. I couldn’t forget the words on French road signs if I tried to! And that’s because I learned them automatically, in context. So find ways of bringing the English language into your real world. Try watching the news in English - try putting your satnav into English. But hopefully don’t get lost.
So talk to yourself about what you’re doing and what’s around you - in English. If you’re putting on your washing, talk to yourself about it in English. ‘Ooh, I need to sort these clothes into darks, lights and colours. Right, let’s put some detergent in the machine. Oh - and which washing cycle shall I use?’ You could do this if you’re putting out the rubbish, or cleaning the bathroom.
Think about what the words for these activities in English. Or if you’re cooking, you could do what we call a ‘running commentary’. That means talking yourself through all the steps involved in what you’re doing. “Ooh, let’s take a frying pan. Let’s put some oil in it and heat it up. Where’s the salt and pepper? Let’s weigh out some flour. Mmm and two eggs’. That’s you making pancakes there, of course!
I’ve suggested this one before - but talking to yourself in English is really important! Talking about your day is a really good way to move away from translating and really start to think in English. Think about what you’re going to do today - and describe it to yourself as though you’re telling your best friend. It’s ‘embarrassment free’ - no one but you is listening. But this can get you into the habit of speaking, without translating.
Start simple. ‘Today I am going to work’. ‘Today I need to get some shopping’. ‘Today I am going on the train’. Or ‘What shall we have for dinner tonight?’ Do this talking to yourself daily. Even just two minutes of talking to yourself in English will start to connect up the part of your brain which understands lots of words when you listen and the part of your brain which needs to find the right words when you want to speak. And remember, simple is fine - your speaking will not be as far forward as your listening. That’s normal.
When you’ve built up some confidence in using English, without translating, there is nothing better than English conversation with other people to help you move forward and continue improving your language skills. We learn languages best of all in context, in real-world situations, as I’ve said. But we learn English even better in social contexts, in social situations, so when we’re with other people.
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We remember things that people say, phrases that people use. And it’s really motivating being with other people speaking English because we want to communicate. Even if you start by listening to and understanding what others are saying and you only say a little bit - that’s a start! Find a way to speak English with other people - and ideally, do this at least once a week.
You’ll be surprised how much faster you learn when you do this. And you’ll no longer feel that urge to translate, either when you’re listening - or when you come to speak. Say what you are able to say - simple English is fine. You can say a lot in English with only a few words - that’s a really good place to start.
Anyway, hopefully those 7 tips give you some really good ideas about how to ‘stop translating and think in English’. And use those 7 tips to think about what changes you might make in your life, to continue improving your English language.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at adeptenglish.com