Learn the language, don’t just translate the words

If you’re hoping for a fast exito from donkey bridges you’re likely to be in for a big déception.

Bad Translations
*’Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof’ is a German idiom that means ‘I don’t understand’

Confused by the sentence above? Let me explain:exito’ is a false friend and actually means ‘success’ in Spanish, not exit. In German, an ‘Eselsbrücke’ is a phrase that means mnemonic, but translates literally as ‘donkey bridge’. In French ‘déception’ means disappointment, not deception.

The world is full of bad translations, often caused by false friends and a word-for-word approach. This can be very funny, but reminds us how confusing it is to learn a language using direct translations.

Why translating is not a good way to learn

When we first come to a foreign language our instinct is to seek translations. It’s a very natural approach, but translating is not the most effective or enjoyable way to learn. It’s hard mental work to form a statement in one language and then translate it word for word. What’s worse, the outcome is always going to be a long way from fluency. Translations get in the way of a more intuitive understanding of a new language and lead us to make mistakes of comprehension and word order, that once established, can stay with us for years. Your brain gets used to a certain way of dealing with the new language that is hard to re-train.

Bad Translations
Spotted in Taiwan: ‘others’ sounds like it is referring to other people in a word-for-word translation

How to translate well

Translators and Interpreters know that their job is not to translate word for word, but to convey the meaning and tone of the original in a way that reflects the author or speaker’s intent. This sentiment is true for learners as well. By developing an intuitive usage of a new language, working within it entirely, you move towards fluency.

“the best teaching style I’ve encountered! not just repeating stuff to forget but building an understanding of the language ground up” – 5 star review on Google Play

What is immersive learning?

It’s common to say that you have really learnt a language when you start thinking or dreaming in that language. But why not learn this way from the start? Learning the immersive way is about creating direct associations with images, objects, places and people you want to describe. You can begin to do this right from your first lesson. 

“Honestly, I’m glad they try to immerse us in the learning rather than here is a word, translate it into English. It makes us think, “so this is what it means, and this is how it’s used” and just like in real life, when learning a language as a child, you mostly learn from pictures and connect the words to the thing you see.” – 5 star review on Google Play

Make the language your own

Don’t become one of the mediocre language learners who get lost for words as their brain searches for a literal translation to what they want to say. Instead, pitch for excellence and learn with as little reference to your native language as possible. 

“Just brilliant. You don’t see the translation unless you want to. The app is designed to help your brain work out how the language you’re learning works without having to translate or rely on your mother tongue or any other language you speak. I absolutely love it.” – 5 star review on Google Play

Learn without translations, the immersive way

Bad Translations 7
What to do in a fire in China 🤷🏻‍♂️

Do you have your own bestie?

Do you have your own best false friend or favourite mistranslation? If so, do post it in the comments below, we’d love to see them.

About the Author Simon Goodall

Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine

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