Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

The resources on this Canadian blog are all free, and I spend a lot of my time working on it, so please consider becoming a SUPPORTER. I appreciate all the support I get. It is the fuel that keeps me going.

Membership is FREE.

NOTE: To leave a comment, click on the word "comment" at the bottom of the page. A comment page will pop up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Improve Your Writing: Don't Translate

If you really want really to improve your writing, stop thinking in your own language and translating the words into English.

I know this seems like an impossible task, and if you are at the beginner or intermediate level, you will have a lot of problems doing this.

But, if you are at an advanced level, you absolutely MUST force yourself to think in English when you are speaking or writing -  even if the words and ideas seem too simple when you do.

I know that many of you don't believe me. You feel that that if you think in your own language and then translate your thoughts into English, your ideas will appear to be more sophisticated and thoughtful than if you only think in English.

Unfortunately, you are completely wrong.  Your method will never work. No matter how much you want this to be true, you are just fooling yourself.

The reality is that if you continue to think in your own language and translate into English, your writing will remain just as bad as it is now, no matter how long you practice. .

Translation doesn't work

Translation simply does not work. Many English words and expressions simply do not translate or even exist in your language, and many of your words and expressions cannot be translated into English. As well, the basic sentence structure, word order and even basic grammar is often completely different.

When you use the Russian, Korean, Chinese, Farsi or Spanish way of expressing yourself, the words themselves might be English, and the sentence structure may look English - especially if you see sentences that seem to have subjects and verbs, but the meaning will be either funny, confusing or both.

Sometimes, your ideas might make some sense if the reader really tries hard to understand what you are trying to say. But, they won't sound English.  They will read and sound like exactly like what they are: a group of awkward sentences that are " sort of" English, Chinglish, Spanglish, Koringlish, etc.

Unfortunately, most of the time your ideas will simply come across as English word salad. - a confusing group  of words that happen to be English.

How to Help Yourself Think in English

There are several ways you can learn to stop translating when you write. They all involve practice, and they all involve not giving up after the first few attempts.

  • Practice rapid writing every single day.  By this I mean write about any topic that comes into your head for 10 solid minutes without stopping to lift your pencil off the paper. If you do this, you will not have time to stop and think in your own language and then translate.  If you continue doing this, you will eventually naturally start thinking in English. You will still make mistakes, but at least your sentences will be English sentences. 

  • Speak out loud when you write in English. Start at the sentence level, especially if you are simply doing grammar exercises that require complete sentences. In this way, you are training your brain to hear and understand English phrasing. You are also subconsciously teaching yourself correct English sentence structure by using four parts of your body instead of two: your eyes, your hands, your ears, and your mouth.

  • Then, start saying the words and sentences in your paragraphs essays out loud AS you write. As soon as you find yourself switching back to thinking in Chinese, or Spanish, Korean or Russian, stop yourself immediately.  Go back to the English. Listen to how your words sound. They won't sound perfect, but if you are at the advanced level, you will certainly know if your sentence sounds English or not - especially if doesn't make sense.
  • If you are at home, you can speak as loudly as you want. If you are in class, mumble or whisper. The point is to prevent yourself from thinking in your language. When you speak the words and sentence structure in English, you will NOT be translating.  When you catch  
A Successful Method:  
I know this method sound crazy, but believe me, it works. I've been teaching students how to write in English for almost 20 years, and those who actually try this method and continue to use it improve dramatically.
The most important point to remember about this method is not to give up too soon. Accept that you WILL feel uncomfortable and even a little embarrassed at first. Most of us normally don't like to hear ourselves think. 

But, there IS a reward. Once you get used to the idea, it will seem quite natural.  The real pay off is that you will have found a way to stop yourself from translating.

As you become more comfortable thinking in English and using it automatically when you write, you will also notice a much greater degree of fluency emerging in  your speaking,  listening and even reading.  Why? This is because you will have finally accepted that your own language and  English are two separate things and should be used separately.

It's all about attitude:

Once you accept that it pays to think in English when you need to, you will find that your are improving more quickly than you thought you could.  You will have adopted the attitude that all good language learners require to truly enjoy and master the new language.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you do not have a web site, or a Google account, click on Name/URL and simply leave your name. You do NOT need to be a member to leave a comment.