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  Weekly Feature (November 19, 2006)

Throw Away that Translator!
Helen M



It is late Sunday evening and I have just read the reminder that it is my turn to write the weekly feature. I panic slightly, wondering what brilliant piece of writing I can turn in that will both interest and benefit the students. I realize that as a student of languages myself, I may have some worthwhile advice so here it is. Besides grammar books and in-class lessons, I find there are several other tools to learn a language.

First and foremost I suggest students throw away their translators and two language dictionaries. Studies have shown that when a certain level of proficiency is reached, translating an unknown word into ones own language does not help in learning that word and in fact it may hinder it.

To learn words I recommend asking a teacher, a classmate, or anyone close by since a verbal explanation is more likely to be remembered than any other method. And wouldn’t you rather speak to another human being given the chance?

Secondly I recommend watching television, going to the movies and listening to music. I recently visited Brazil and am eager to become fluent in Portuguese. I have not been fortunate enough to attend classes to learn but I do credit the entertainment industry as one of my teachers. From watching Brazilian soccer or the many soap operas playing nightly on television I tuned my ear to the sound of the language and learned many common idioms.

Also I strongly feel that learning a language is not simply learning grammar and vocabulary but one needs to expose oneself to the culture of the country; popular music, film and television are ideal teachers.

Lastly and probably most obviously, I urge students to speak. Speak before class, after class, and during break. Speak to your neighbours, the store clerk, the bus driver or anyone else who’ll stop long enough to listen. Two and a half hours, four days a week is not enough time to master a language. Take the time and calculate approximately how much time you spend on average per week learning English. I then suggest you try to double this time.

While in Brazil my friend who spoke English insisted that we speak Portuguese so that I could improve my skills. Although at times it took twice as long to say something or to understand what she wanted to say, my Portuguese improved greatly in a very short time.

Although this may not be the brilliant piece of writing I imagined when I first sat down to write, I feel that I am somewhat qualified to give advice as I truly understand the frustrations of not being understood or not understanding what is going on around me. Staying in one’s own world, speaking one’s first language, or translating will not facilitate language learning.

I urge all students to make the effort to break their current routine (if it’s not working) and start speaking to strangers, watching television shows or listening to English music and most of all I urge you to throw that translator in the garbage!!!

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