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Translation from English is Bad For Your Fluency + Example From My Early Days as a Teacher

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Hi guys and welcome back to EnglishHarmony.com video blog!

I’m Robby from EnglishHarmony.com, obviously, and in this video episode, we’re going to touch upon a subject that we’ve spoken about many times before, namely – the fact that you don’t have to translate from English into your native language and vice versa while getting involved in English improving related activities.

Obviously, we’ve spoken about it at length previously so I’m not going to get into the reasons why you shouldn’t be doing that.  By now, they should be quite obvious to you but for those who haven’t watched my videos in the past and haven’t visited my website probably, let me tell you just one thing.

If you translate, you can’t speak fluently because your mind is too preoccupied with dealing with all the grammar related issues and basically creating sentences from scratch in your mind, instead of speaking spontaneously and that’s what fluent speech is all about.

In relation to the whole ‘don’t translate’ subject, I’m going to bring up an example of what happens when people try to translate, and it happened years ago.

Years Ago I Used to Teach English to My Friends & Relations…

You see, what I used to do about seven or eight years ago, I used to teach English to a group of people. They were all my relations and friends. There were five, six, or seven people, I’m not really sure, but anyhow, once a week, we met for an hour or so and I was giving them examples, new vocabulary words and back then, I didn’t really go the English Harmony road because I wasn’t actually aware of all that.

I was still struggling with my own fluency, so I was using the traditional grammar translation method to teach my friends English. This phrase, ‘I NEED HER’ somehow stuck in my mind because I remember there were plenty of questions asked about that particular phrase.

You see, in my language, which is Latvian in case you didn’t know – I come from a Latvian background. It’s a small nation in Eastern Europe, near the Baltic Sea to be more specific, and at the coast of the Baltic Sea, there’s three Baltic States; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, right, and I’m a Latvian.

In our language, we don’t really say, ‘I need her’. Translated directly, it would translate something like, ‘my needs her’ or something like that, you know what I mean, and this is a vivid example of total uselessness of translation because if you try and do that, you’ll just get all messed up in your head.

So WHY Do They Say “I Need Her” in English If We Say It Differently in Our Language?!

All you’ve got to do is just accept the fact that ‘I need her’ describes the concept of ‘me needing her’ and you don’t have to try and put that concept in your native language words because the chances are, if you try and do that, just like my friends and relatives tried to do during our English lesson, all of a sudden they just can’t grasp the concept. They start asking all sorts of questions – “Why do you say that in English?” and “Come on, in Latvian we say that but in English we say that, so are there any rules stipulating that word usage and how do I know what I have to say in a similar situation?!”

So, basically, it creates an avalanche of questions and a stream of questions that, I actually back then, found very hard to answer because I still hadn’t found the answers to all of those questions myself and I was trying to, kind of, explain why you have to use those words and why people say such things in English but the simple answer was – “Don’t ask any questions, just accept that that is the way in which speakers say, ‘I need her’! Stop right there and then! Don’t translate into your native language. Don’t even ask those questions, just accept it and that’s it. Repeat the phrase ‘I need her’ and try and visualize the whole concept of you needing someone, be it your wife or child or whatever, any other person, and just say it out loud a number of times; I need her, I need her, I need her, and that’s it!”

Simple Repetition Does The Trick!

The phrase “I NEED HER” embeds itself into your mind and that suffices for you to be able to speak like a native speaker, right, when describing that particular concept, whereas if you keep asking the question, “But why do you say that?” you just keep confusing yourself and at some stage down the line, you might actually become so frustrated that you might abandon any attempts to better and improve your English, so it’s better for everyone.

It’s better for the teacher, for yourself, if you just stop asking those questions, but obviously if you are tutored by a teacher who follows a traditional road of teaching English, they will actually try and explain all those concepts and they will actually facilitate all such questions, and on many occasions, they will leave those questions unanswered and leave you wondering why it’s like that instead of just telling you, “No, you don’t have to ask those questions.  Don’t try and translate, just use the English phrase without trying to draw some parallels between the English phrase and your native language phrase, right?”

Obviously now I know better than that, I’ve stopped asking such questions to others and myself a long time ago and whenever people at work, for example, ask me some questions like that. You see, there are a lot of non-native English speakers where I work and sometimes they approach me with asking some English related questions beginning with the word ‘why’ and my answer is always, “Don’t try and understand why, just accept it! That’s what’s said in English, that’s all. That’s how English speakers speak. That’s the English language, right?”

So, I hope this video is useful to you in case you were in doubt about some particular phrase or sentence in English, or you were wondering why they actually say that in English and in my native language, they say it a bit differently.

Just stop it.

Stop it right there ❗

Don’t ask those questions because that’s the only way more or less to improve your English to a much greater degree to a native-like fluency!

Thanks for watching my friends and don’t hesitate to publish any questions or comments you may have in the comments section below. Thank you and goodbye! 😉

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hi Juhapekka,

    Sure enough, a claim that translation is bad without a further context doesn’t make much sense; however, everything that I post here on EH is to be seen from the perspective of fluency issues. Therefore, I can claim that translation is bad because this blog is for those foreigners who STRUGGLE with fluent speech after spending years on traditional studies and at least part of their issues originate in the fact that they’re trying to translate unnecessarily and they’re not picking up the habit of thinking and speaking in English only.

    Also, I have to agree that you can do without translation completely, and I’ve actually written about it before – here’s the article where I discussed English learning principles for total beginners: http://englishharmony.com/english-learning-for-beginners/ – you may read it if you didn’t get a chance to do it previously.

    Speaking of Mike – I’m sorry Juhapekka, I don’t really want to talk about it. You don’t know him the way I do – and knowing me you’ll know I wouldn’t say such words lightly.

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • Juhapekka

    Hi Robby and Mike!

    I’d like to take part in this discussion by saying that after all Mike’s posted links are interesting and I skimmed or read some of them but I didn’t understand some articles properly. I’m not exactly sure what is my view of the role of translation in the successful language learning but anyway I try to say my present opinion briefly. These links contained useful information about translation in the language learning process and really relevant arguments for the usefulness of translation and against it as well but I didn’t find information about how to achieve spoken English fluency when one’s goal is not only reading and writing proficiency in academic circles but also native-like English fluency in the spoken language. There is no doubt about that language studies in schools have been undoubtedly useful for all of us and they have given necessary skills that have helped us. Formal English school studies have been somehow necessary prerequisite for us in our attempts to achieve spoken English fluency but the problem is that this academic translation mindset is slowing down our speech big time and this desire to translate before we speak is almost irresistible even after many years of school studies and the translation is hindering our spoken English almost all the time. This wrong translation mindset is also harmful in listening comprehension because I know from my own experience that desire to translate can be quite irresistible also when one is listening something. Luckily, I myself have gotten rid of this mindset quite well when I’m listening thanks to my intensive and long listening practice but when it comes to speaking I have a lot of problems partly due to this academic translation mindset. And when I said a lot of I really mean a lot of! It’s very difficult to get rid of this harmful part of school studies! That’s one of the reasons why Robby’s blog is so unique among other English improving sites and Robby has been absolutely right in the blog that translation is somehow bad for one’s fluency and it hinders one’s progress when the case is spoken English fluency.

    Even though my comment becomes long I pick up one of those links: http://www.memoriapress.com/articles/natural-method-not-natural and I try to evaluate the validity of some arguments in Cheryl Lowe’s article “The Natural Method is Not Natural”. The author Cheryl Lowe claimed that the natural method which was introduced in the 1960s doesn’t work and “with the natural method, we abandoned the difficult but doable goal of learning to read a modern language for the even more difficult and unrealistic goal of learning to speak a foreign language, with the result that most students today learn neither” and she based his claim partly on her and her son’s failed experiences with the natural method. This is partly true because there is surely many problems in the natural method because it’s so new and there has been relatively little time to develop the natural method sufficiently well compared to the grammar/translation method which has had many hundreds years time to develop fully. She said also that by giving the student reading proficiency and the grammar basics of a foreign language, the school had prepared him to develop speaking proficiency when the opportunity arise. That’s also at least partly true but then she added that the grammar/translation method works beautifully which is really misleading claim and its beautifulness is pure nonsense or even the direct big lie because she underestimates very badly the seriousness of the foreigners’ fluency problems. However, she admitted in the same article that “Prior to the 1960s, the goal of modern language instruction was to learn to read a modern language, not to speak a modern language….The goal was never to learn to speak a foreign language…”. Of course, there is also much reasonable and sensible argumentation in Cheryl Lowe’s article and the sentence “So with the natural method, we abandoned the difficult but doable goal of learning to read a modern language for the even more difficult and unrealistic goal of learning to speak a foreign language, with the result that most students today learn neither” is very serious that should be carefully considered, indeed, but the overall article is partly inconsistent and Sheryl Lowe actually admitted indirectly in the same article of herself that her claim about the beautifulness of the traditional grammar/translation method is false.
    In conclusion, I think that English harmony method works in spoken language and the traditional grammar/translation method works in written language. I found only two problems in the English harmony method: Firstly how to deal with translation when you have to translate without hindering your spoken English fluency and secondly the English harmony method has tested properly only for intermediate and advanced learners who have acquired necessary English skills already by the traditional school methods but there is much less evidence that the similar method works without problems for absolute beginners. However, there is Benny Lewis’s blog http://www.fluentin3months.com/ that is after all quite good evidence even though the claim “fluency in three months” is perhaps more like the challenge than the promise. The English harmony and the grammar/translation method are truly two different worlds and the real challenge here is to combine these two successfully.

    I quote also the part of one paragraph from
    http://www.beta-iatefl.org/1202/blog-publications/how-to-use-translation-in-the-
    language-classroom/ “How to use translation in the language classroom” by Rossen Stoitchkov: “Of course, it is easy to think of convincing reasons why native speakers of English have a lot of advantages as language teachers. Nevertheless, they have never thought about and struggled with the language the way a non-native teacher has. Many non-native speakers have a sophisticated knowledge of L2, a kind of knowledge which native speakers can only develop with special training.” This quote clearly underlines the advantages Robby has as the fluency mentor. It’s interesting to read that non-native speakers have some kind of sophisticated knowledge which native speakers are lacking without special training although I already knew it somehow implicitly.

    This translation issue is interesting and it’d be useful to analyze it more deeply and more profoundly but it’d take quite a lot of time to read all of those articles carefully and to form the sensible opinion about this issue. We have to be also aware of that we don’t make things more complicated than they really are because there are hundreds or thousands or even more articles about this topic and we don’t have time to read them all.

    And of course the claim that “translation is bad” is not true in general and one has all rights to say that it is too “black and white” claim and the role of translation is more complicated. The previous sentence is undoubtedly true but the claim “translation is bad” is also completely true in the context of English fluency issues and the claim “translation is bad” is true in many foreign English speakers’ lives. Thus, translation is undoubtedly useful but it has also this bad aspect. In my view, the paradox that translation can be both good and bad in the same time is the real problem we should find solution before we can contribute something useful and reasonable for this discussion! In other words, we have to find out how we can translate efficiently and use translations in our language learning without hindering our fluency and confusing our mind. To retell an old proverb: Translation is a good servant but a bad master!

    Hopefully my comment is helpful and contributed something reasonable to this discussion.

    As a final note I mention that I understand your overall comment policy and your point of view about Mike’s comments really well, Robby. They are perhaps too cookie-cutter and it’s important to write sufficiently original, reasonable or relevant comments. However, I don’t know what Mike has written before and I trust your judgement but are you sure that you wasn’t too severe and strict for Mike?

  • I just checked out some of these and here’s the thing – no-one really acknowledges the issues with FLUENCY. None of these article are written by a non-native speaker who’s been struggling to speak simply because he’s been translating to/from English his entire life.

    Yes, translation is great help if you go down the road of academic English studies but it cripples our ability to speak as non-native speakers.

    Instead we have to THINK in English and use English ONLY when speaking, reading and writing in English and we have to get rid of our mother tongue’s influence as early as possible in our English learning routine.

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • I do and I will keep blaming translation activities for my own (it’s a thing of past now) and thousands of other non-native speakers’ inability to speak fluently simply because the more you translate, the more you’ll analyze what you’re trying to say and it prevents you from speaking fluently.

    By the way mike – did you actually read the article and watch the video?

    If you’re going to start spamming my blog again with your cookie-cutter comments which don’t contribute to our discussion at all, I’m going to ban you again.

    So if you’re something useful to bring to the table – please go ahead.

    If, on the other hand, you’re going to post meaningless comments with no reasoning and meaningful purpose to them, I’m going to do just like I said I will.

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Hi Sergio,

    But where do those WHY questions come from? In my opinion they all come from people’s desire to TRANSLATE directly.

    Therefore, it is a matter of translation.

    By the way, I’ve also written about the WHY questions, here’s the article: http://englishharmony.com/dont-ask-why-questions/

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Sergio

    I think it is not a matter of translation but a question of so many why,why,why… a bad habit that non native speakers have – Brazilian at least. Why in Portuguese we say “I dreamt with you last night! and in English is “I dreamt about you…..or why we say “I give a party” and they say “I have/trown a party”, and so on, and on

  • Yes, sure, just post the links here and I’ll see what it’s all about!

  • Mike

    Robby, the issue of translation and the role of one’s native language in learning English as a foreign or a second language, is quite complex. I’ve been reading a lot of publications on this issue. I’d like to share some articles with highly relevant arguments on this issue with you and your readers if you allow me to provide you with those links. Those relatively short articles may prompt you to write your own articles.

  • Did I really say that? Can’t believe it! Thanks a lot for spotting the mistake, I’ll fix it now!

  • Nick

    …and this is a vivid example of total usefulness of translation…

    You wanted to say “useless” probably .