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Published on: Tips to learn Spanish

Say NO to translation

Removing the translation component from your language studies and habits is crucial to gaining proficiently in any language. Word-to-word translations from one language to another prohibit a truly stream-of-consciousness thought process that allows for seamless communication between individuals and groups. Switching back and forth between two languages isn’t necessarily the most productive thing to do when you’re learning a new language, as you are simply translating and at the core still utilizing your native language. Some students develop this translation habit and have a very hard time kicking it. Here are some basic reasons why you should stop translating from English to Spanish or vice versa.

  • Translating consumes almost all your brain power and there is very little energy left for actual language learning.
  • The translated word is put in temporary memory not in long term memory. Next time you want to use it, it’s gone or misplaced somewhere in your gringo brain. Word retrieval becomes a painful experience!
  • Translation makes listening comprehension almost impossible. Please, put down your Duolingo program and try to infer the meaning of words from the context.
  • Translating word-to-word hinders the natural communication process. You sound robotic, disengaged and repetitive.
  • Translating turns you into an “ask-hole”! You’ll be constantly interrupting the person you’re speaking with for the meaning of the word in your native language.

That said, here are some practices we suggest you incorporate into your routine immediately!

Start acquiring new vocabulary without the interference of your native tongue. Make your first language a tool, not a means to learn new words. A simple way to do this is by creating flashcards using Spanish text on one side and images that illustrate the text on the other. There’re many applications that allow you to do this. This method is so effective because you’re essentially cutting out the middle man. After your brain learns a new word it recalls it as an image, not a group of letters needing to be processed. Studying this way feels effortless compared to the old-fashioned way, as you’re able to recall words much faster in much less time. This recall process will help your listening skills and eventually will have an impact on your speaking skills.

Another problem to tackle is that of translation and grammar, an exercise akin to sticking a square peg into a round hole.  Some students get very hung up in this area, twisting and turning word order and sentence structure as they stutter and hesitate through conversations. A great way to move away from this practice is to study and absorb intuitively the basic constructions of grammar and then move directly to applying it to the language itself. Make the target language (Spanish in this case) a more essential part of your life! If you’re studying Spanish, you might want to try getting your news from Spanish outlets, reading newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. all in Spanish, or simply listening to Spanish music just for fun. Repeated exposure to real-world applications of these concepts will allow you to let go of the word ordering, after all, the idea that you’re trying to express is much more important than the order of the words. And by the way, Spanish-native speakers have a huge tolerance for grammar mistakes but not so much for phonetic mistakes. So concentrate on how you pronounce words, not on the grammar structure.

Don’t expect to be perfect! Vocabulary, grammar, exceptions to the rules and cultural idiosyncrasies are so vast that you’re going to make a ton of mistakes. Embrace them and stop feeling embarrassed! Most importantly, learn from your mistakes and become a better language learner. Don’t be that person in your Spanish class making the same mistakes over and over again, the last thing you want is to be labeled a “perpetual beginner” in the minds of your teachers and peers!