Think twice before translating, you could be slowing down your Spanish learning

Peter decided it was time to learn how to drive, he bought a car, read the complete manual and jumped into the car seat – “I’m ready to speed up!”- he thought.

He started the car paying close attention to the instructions given in the manual. The engine was working, it was roaring like a little cat and ready to go. Peter stepped on the clutch and the accelerator, he put the first gear and then he let go of the clutch, but then the car went off.

Quickly, Peter turned to the manual again, and while reading the instructions, he tried to make the car go. Unfortunately, the car barley moved and went off again, leaving just frustration to Peter’s efforts.

This is certainly the worst way to learn how to drive, reading the manual and trying to play with the clutch and the accelerator is not very efficient. Using translation to learn to Speak, or even just to try to understand spoken Spanish, is just as inefficient as Peter’s brilliant idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that translation is totally bad. As a language learner, I know that sometimes, we just need to find an equivalent of the new word we are learning into our native language, so we can fully understand the meaning of thenew word; But translation, should be just like a breakfast, something that you do just once.

If you focus on translating Spanish into your mother tongue, I am sure that you will be using your eyes instead of your earsbecause, as well educated adults, almost every time we need to translate something, we usually need to check their spelling first to type it on google afterwards.

Fluency gets very affected when you stick to translate every single Spanish new word. Just think of Peter’s technique to learn how to drive, he needed to read the manual before making any move with his pedals.

It would be the same if you’d need to translate word by word from Spanish to your own language. In fact, translation won’t make sense in many cases because, translators can’t give sense to a sentence like a person does, influenced by region, topic, or the context of the conversation.

When you engage in real Spanish conversations, you realize that everything goes at a high speed, there’s just no time to think of the meaning of just one word, or time to break a sentence and translate it word by word, somehow, you need to hurry.

Also, if you stick to translation, you are going to make it more difficult for your brain to memorize new vocabulary since, it will depend only on whether you have good memory or not; and for people like me, this is a big struggle.

If translation is not the way, what am I supposed to do then?

Did you ever see the movie back to the future? Well, imagine you are driving that epic Delorean, and you set your trip in time to when you were just two months old.

See yourself as a baby, and what do you see? Do you see a baby talking spontaneously, and having conversations with your mom? Of course not, your baby self is just there listening to adults talking, listening to a language just as it comes.

Come back to present time, and see the results you got from listening to a language from childhood. you talk fluently, you express your ideas spontaneously, and it became just your language.

Here is the lesson we learn from your baby self: learn Spanish, just as it comes, in its natural form.

When I was learning to speak English, I used to watch a TV show called Drake and Josh. I remember I watched the same episodes in different times because that was how the channel broadcast their TV shows. The bottom line is, this kind of repetition helped me understand some new words.

I started to notice words in certain situations, for example, I was hearing how they used to say, “awesome”, every time something good happened. I didn’t know how to spell it, but I knew how it sounded and figured what it meant by its context, I eventually found the word in a magazine, and learned how to spell it.

The lesson from this small experience is just the same as the one we learned from your baby self: Learn the language as it comes, in its natural form. Remember to focus on listening, learn with your ears, not with your eyes.

This way, you will be training yourself for fluency. It’s going to become easier to remember new words because, when you learn new words or expressions, the new word will be tied to real memories, like things you do, hear, or watch, not just to easy to forget single letters.

Don’t worry too much about how to spell the new words you learn, remember that first thing you did when you were a baby was listening, then you learned to speak, and finally you went to school to learn how to read and write.

Focus on the first two steps of language learning first, and when you get fluency, move one to reading and writing.

How to translate Spanish to your language

As I said before, translating is not totally bad. What I want to say with this post, is that you must focus all your energy, on acquiring Spanish in the most natural way possible, but if you really feel that you need to translate something from Spanish to understand its full meaning, that’s Ok too.

It is fine as long as you don’t stick to translation. Use your translator once, and when you feel that you understand the meaning of whatever you need to understand, move on, and listen to it in Spanish. Don’t spend too much time on translating, do this once, just as you have your breakfast once a day.

I am sure that if Peter would have focused his driving learning on practicing his use of the clutch, and the accelerator, he would have had the chance to drive the car quicker. Instead, he was taking the most inefficient way to learn. Don’t translate when you learn Spanish, and I promise that you will get the chance to “drive your Spanish”, in the blink of an eye.

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.

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