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Are You Teaching Yourself to Translate in Your Head?

January 31, 2019 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Do you translate everything in your head?

Because if you do, there’s a good chance that what you’re doing to improve your English is actually making it worse and not better.

Watch on.

If you are stuck thinking in your native language, translating everything in your head word by word, rule by rule, painstakingly computing your English sentences as you go, there’s a good chance what are you doing to improve your English is making the situation worse and not better.

You see, we get good at what we practise and many people, although they think they are doing what they should be doing to improve their English, are actually practicing these mental gymnastics that make you do what you are doing.

First of all, let’s think about what you probably did when you were at school.

If you had English classes and if you didn’t like the classes that typically people in Japan have and certainly what I had when I studied French in the UK, there’s a good chance that you learned by memorising lists of vocabulary, studying grammar rules, translating sentences back and forth.

Learning to take the grammar that you learned, slot in words, and construct and compute sentences.

And of course, your teacher would put you on the spot.

Hey, Julian!

She would say, stand up, tell me how to say

“I have a green apple” in French.

And then I would be expected to produce the sentence, which of course I had no fucking clue how to do anyway, but in my head, I would try to make it work.

And I would all be a total mess in them.

Most people have English lessons like this.

What you are actually doing there is practicing thinking about what you’re saying as you’re saying it.

And of course in that situation, if you get it wrong, what happens? Your teacher punishes you by saying no, that’s wrong! Or by giving you bad scores on a test.

So that reinforces the feeling that you’ve got to spend more time thinking about these things, more carefully to compute them properly.

And then we get older, we struggle with our English. We start thinking in our native language, translating, not speaking as fluently as we’d like.

So what do we do? We think well okay, obviously I need to memorise more words.

I need to study more grammar.

And a little bit at a time you train yourself to think about everything as you are saying it.

The way you are learning, although you think you are doing what you need to do to get more fluent, you’re actually making the problem worse, because what you are practising is not what you need to be able to do and that is to be able to speak fluently and spontaneously without all the mental gymnastics going on in your head that are slowing you down in the first place.

And the first thing that you need to do is to understand that very fact that what you are doing is probably making the problem worse, so that you are able to let go and to start training yourself a little bit over time to start speaking directly in English without thinking in your native language or having to you know, having to construct and compute, and gymnasti-cize these sentences and all words.

It doesn’t matter. You get the idea as you go.

I recommend you check out my book Think English, Speak English: How to Stop Performing Mental Gymnastics Every Time You Speak English.

It’s on Kindle. It also comes in paperback. Also via Amazon.

If you wanna fix this problem that you are struggling with, if you are struggling with it, go to Think English, Speak English and check that out.


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