Is Translating Hurting Your IELTS Success?

May 1, 2019 by Tony Rusinak

It’s movie time! You’re about to watch a film in English, but English isn’t your first language. So the question is, subtitles or not? If you’re like most people, you will remember the subtitles in your language, but forget most of the English that was spoken. Why does this happen? It happens because learning a language is difficult! If you can understand something easily in your first language, why would you get a headache and trying to understand another language? And yes… Who wants a headache on a movie night?

Friends at the cinema wearing 3D glasses

I’m guessing you follow my point. When we translate, we tend to remember our own language because it’s easier. Conversely, while remembering our own language, we forget the other, which is English. Translating isn’t always a bad thing for English students, though. It can be used in lots of ways to study. It can also be an excellent way to prepare for the IELTS test. Let’s take a close look and see when it’s helpful and when it’s unhelpful to translate.

Reverse translate your readings – Helpful!

This is a great way to improve your reading and writing skills. First, you should find a text that has copies both in English and in your language. Websites that have language options are good for this. Next, try and find an article that is 900 words long. 900 is the average word count for the IELTS readings. After that, read the English text and take good notes, then translate your notes into your own language. Finally, compare your notes to the website translation. Are they the same? Are you accurate? If you find some mistakes, review the problem areas and try to learn where you made the mistake. This will really push you to read accurately, write accurately, and build those English skills strong!

Use translation flashcards – Helpful!

This is a classic language learning activity. While you are studying English, keep a list of new or difficult terms. After you have your list of words, sentences, and phrases, enter them on your flashcards. Write English on one side, and your language on the other. There are lots of methods of practicing, and I’ll tell you one. Put away the cards that you learn easily but keep using the difficult cards. This is a really efficient and effective way to study. And remember what I said about writing full sentences on the cards? This way, you not only learn the key vocabulary, but also grammatical patterns. And who doesn’t need some grammar practice?

Woman looking at notes

Interpret for your friends and classmates – Helpful!

I will give a warning with this one. You will be getting most of the language learning benefits (and not your friends)! Translating in face-to-face real-time is amazing practice for your speaking and listening skills. And if it’s with your friends or classmates, it also helps them. Some common ones are talking with landlords, chatting with new friends, or hanging out in a café with some new friends. So if you have the confidence to do this, try and find some opportunities.

Translate new vocabulary when reading – Unhelpful!

A really important skill to learn for IELTS is to guessing vocabulary meaning while reading. Use the ideas and words connected to the keyword, and make an educated guess. For example, look at the sentence “The chicken laid three sqeedunks this week. We had them for breakfast today”. Do you need to translate the word squeedunk on your phone? You could, but you could also guess. Using the ideas of chicken, laid, and breakfast you can conclude that squeedunk means egg. You didn’t need your phone, and you can note the word egg on your paper. This skill will improve your reading speed, will improve your understanding, and will help you remember the new words more easily.

Translation App - Welcome

Translate during speaking test practice – Unhelpful!

This is a challenge of the mind. It is a habit you should avoid. For example, I’m really bad with numbers. If I want to say a number in Chinese, I think of it in English first, then I translate it into Chinese. Mentally, this wastes time. I have to think of the same number two times and in two languages! Once in English, then again, translated into Chinese. This way of speaking makes us less fluent. So, when you speak, try to only think in English as well. It will help you stay focused and improve your fluency. This is especially important in the days and weeks before your test.

Use translators while you write – Unhelpful!

On the IELTS test, paraphrasing and explaining your ideas is important. And yes, I will tell you something very obvious, you won’t have your phone during the exam. So push yourself to explain using the language you already have. Using your phone to find the word can be a really lazy and poor habit. Remember the famous idiom when you are struggling to think of a word, no pain, no gain!

So there you have it. Translating can be both something that improves your English or something that slows you down. Follow these tips, and think of some more on your own. You’ll thank yourself on test day. Squeedunks!

IELTS Expert

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