How To Think in English – The Problem With Translation

June 26, 2017 - Priscila Pereira

1 Comment

Will Translation Slow You Down?

Hey, guys!

Every now and then I hear English speakers say it is difficult for them to think fast in English because they have to translate everything in their “head” before saying them and consequently it takes them more time to do so. If this happens to you, it is time to reevaluate the way you approach English. What I can tell you from my experience is that you have probably relied way too much on translation and now as you are moving forward and learning more complex structure, different vocabulary and expressions, new phrasal verbs and so many other cool things in English, you are getting frustrated because you need more and more time to “process” to translate all this content from your native language to English.  That’s the purpose of this article, to show you that translation is slowing you down. But don’t worry, I will also show you some suggestions on how to stop doing that.

The beginning – Part 1

You started studying English. Everything is new. You are learning basic words and expressions, such as “hi”, “hello”, “good morning”,  “how are you”, etc. You translate every single word. You write them down, one by one and write what they mean/their translation. You keep doing that, you learn verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs… And for each new word you learn, you have it translated so that you don’t forget!

The beginning – Part 2

You are learning more verbs, pronouns, and complements. You are trying to make phrases, but it is so difficult to build these phrases. You read your list. You find the “exact” words you need. You translate sentence by sentence, word by word.

You are creating a pattern (a standard /specific way to do something). You are telling your brain that to make sentences, you need to know “word by word” and their meanings in your native language. If you don’t do that, it is impossible for you to make sentences. (That’s what you’re basically telling your brain)

Intermediate – Part 1

You’re feeling good! You’ve mastered simple present, simple past and other basic structure to help you with basic and casual conversation. You make some mistakes, you forget a few rules, but now the conversations are getting more complicated. The sentences are so long, so so so long! Questions are long! You have to explain everything. You need to give your opinion, give more details. That list you created, in the beginning, is not helping you anymore. There are many words, your brain is not fast enough and can’t translate everything. You get stuck, you don’t know what to say. Is the problem vocabulary? Do I need more grammar? Do I need to practice more speaking? What Am I doing wrong?


This is more or less what happens to many English speakers. They feel like they will be intermediate speakers forever. That happens because they don’t change their pattern, they don’t change the way they learn new words.

I’m not a scientist and there are several scientific facts to explain why translation is not a good idea as well as many articles which will defend translation. Nevertheless, I speak to you from my experience, from the struggles my students from all over the world have.

Let’s look at this phrasal verb: PUT UP WITH. Probably, in the beginning, you learned the verb “put”. When you see this phrasal verb though, the first thing that will come to your mind is the translation of the verb “put”, however you know that it is not correct and that’s when your “internal battle” begins. You are in the middle of a conversation and someone used this phrasal verb, and now you are trying really hard to find the translation for this very long verb. This will keep happening. This is what I want you to Change TODAY!

Does that mean I need to stop translating everything?

NO! Definitely not! 

We need translation. However, it is important we don’t let our brain get “addicted to it”.  We need to find ways to connect words and their meanings without relying too much on our native language.

For example, the word “table”. The first thing that comes to my mind is a beautiful image of a wooden table like this one:

For some people, however,  when they first hear the word table, they will immediately think of the translation! What’s the difference? I trained my brain with images, sounds, textures, while many other people trained their brain with translated words!

I do translate words to my students. But I try to explain that word before translating it. Even If I need to explain it in their native language! Then, most of the times, they understand what it is. As they make more progress, these explanations are made only in English. I also use “short stories”, “images” “sounds” to explain words to them since the beginning, so that they can train their brain to look for explanations, rather than translations. As they move forward all these explanations are made in English.

Is this the perfect and only solution? 

No, there are many other things you can do. But my main suggestion here is, stop this pattern and try to create a new one! I always tell my students that learning a new word is like pretending to be “Sherlock Holmes” You need to investigate! Tease your brain; give clues, but not the translation!

By the time you have reached Intermediate, your brain will be stronger and better prepared for the many words, expressions and long complex phrases you will need to speak!

Trust me, this is not easy, but you CAN do it!

Watch my “how to think in English” videos to get ideas on how to train your brain! Focus on the tips I gave you here and use images in your favor! Try to explain verbs instead of translating them! Help your brain remember situations and stories, rather than just individual words without any context.

Sometimes students tell me they can’t find situations to use certain words. I say it is because they only learned the meaning, the translation of them. Learn new words in contexts, and you are not gonna forget it!

I hope this article can give you a better idea of why translating is not a good idea! 

Share it with your friends!

Teacher Prix

Priscila Pereira

Starbucks and TV Series lover: juggling with teaching, blogging, and a YouTube life! I’m teacher Prix and I want to help you talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime in English! This blog is for English speakers who are looking for an effective blog. Get inspired by hundreds of different posts for all English levels, so that you can finally learn English easily and effectively on the internet.

One thought on “How To Think in English – The Problem With Translation

  • Shirley

    June 27, 2017 at 13:38

    Excellent article, teacher Prix!
    I have this problem sometime… I’ll start to follow your advice.
    Thanks a lot for your tips. =)


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