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Automatic English For The People

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Don't Translate

Yuriko is an excellent student. She has the best English skills in my class.

Yuriko is an excellent writer. She writes very well in English. I have always been impressed by the skill of her writing.

So I was very surprised today when she gave me an essay. The writing was not so good. I was confused. Normally her sentences are very clear-- very easy to understand. But this time, I had a lot of trouble understanding what she was trying to communicate.

I kept thinking, "Why is this essay different than her others? Why is this one so much worse?"

Finally, I had an idea. I asked her, "Did you write this first in Japanese, and then translate it?"

She said, "Yes". Yuriko wanted this essay to be good. So she wrote it first in Japanese and then translated it. She probably thought this would make it better. Instead, it made it much worse.

By translating, Yuriko stopped thinking in English. She lost her natural "Feel" for English. Her grammar is normally excellent, but in this essay, it was not good. Her sentences are normally clear, but in this essay they were very confusing.

Yuriko's English got worse because she was translating instead of using her normal natural English ability. I told her, "Next time, don't write the essay in Japanese first. Just write it in English directly. When you do that, your writing is always very good."

This is also true of speaking. If you learn by translating, your English grammar and fluency will always be bad. You will always be speaking your native language-- using English vocabulary. Your speech will be slower, more confusing, and harder to understand.

Skip translation. Don't do it. When you study English-- listen to English. Read English. Listen to things that are easy for you. Read English books and articles that are easy for you. Over time, you will understand English naturally and easily, without translation. After a bit more time, you will start to speak more naturally and easily. Your grammar will improve-- because you will have a "feel" for English grammar instead of trying to remember rules and translations.

To learn English, listen to English and read English.... do not translate.



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