Stop Translating in your Head: The Key to Learning a Foreign Language

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The road to foreign language fluency is never short and not particularly easy. There is just so much to learn— verb conjugations, grammar, and sometimes an entirely new alphabet. No wonder it is a task that is seen by many as formidable. But it doesn’t need to be. If you stop translating in your head and make the decision to think in your new language as often as possible, your fluency will greatly improve.

This is not an easy task, but never fear! Progress comes from embracing uncertainty. Often the regular way of language learning in a classroom is not enough. You must work outside of this setting to gain mastery. And it doesn’t have to take complete cultural immersion to do so. How can you stop translating and start thinking in another language?  By making changes in your daily life. Here are some tips to get you started:

Describe your world

No matter how limited your vocabulary, use it to describe the world around you. If you only know colors, mentally label your child’s red sweater or the orange traffic cone, the green leaves and trees. Maybe you know adjectives. What around you is tall, short, pretty, soft, etc.?  Do you know directions? Are you turning east, west, north or south? What are the rooms in your house? The fruits in your kitchen? You get the idea. Make a conscious decision to use these words every day.

Trade in your daily conversations for new ones

Think about simple conversations in your new language. When you see your neighbors, how would you greet them in your target language? How are some ways they could respond? How would you order your favorite drink at the corner coffee shop? Mentally ask your coworkers about their weekend using the language you are studying.  Write down any words which you find difficult to remember. Do this daily.

Talk to yourself

That’s right. I said “talk to yourself.” No worries. There have been recent studies that show people who talk to themselves are geniuses, so it is okay. And you will be a genius who is speaking in another language no less! Talking to yourself will help you organize your thoughts. You can practice tricky pronunciation.

Not keen on talking to yourself? Try videotaping yourself to track your progress. Post your videos to YouTube and maybe your videos will even go viral and the world will be impressed by your language learning skills! Again, talk about what you are currently learning. Is it months of the year, weather or idioms? Talk about it!

Use Technology

There is no better time to learn another language and there are countless ways to enhance your language learning using technology. Here are a few:

  • Read news and blogs in your target language, even if you have no idea what it says.
  • Find online message boards in your target language
  • Change your homepage language to the language you are learning. Or try to do this with your Facebook page or other websites. If you are studying Chinese and visit the Ikea website in search of a new couch, select the China webpage when you search the site.
  • Change the language on your cell phone. Needing to know how to navigate your phone will force you to become more proficient.
  • Watch movies in your target language without subtitles or—better yet—watch a movie in your native language with the subtitles in your target language. Then read the subtitles to increase your reading speed.
  • Pick your favorite subject and goof around online for awhile. Make it fun, but watch all of it in your foreign language.
  • Listen to podcasts, music and radio stations in a foreign language. Listen to the news. You may find great music, but you will also get sense of the language’s cadence.
  • For a more advanced language learner, you can install a version of Windows on your computer that is in your target language. When you need to navigate your computer, it may be difficult at first, but you will eventually master it.

Learning languages are best done when you decide to move out of your comfort zone. Practice outside of class in any way you find enjoyable. When we make something fun, it has a better chance of sticking with us. Forget translating in your head; live the language and watch your competency increase!

 

By Ilona Knudson

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