Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | May 31, 2012

What do I do if I get stuck ?

What do I do if I get stuck in a language ? I think it’s an interesting question.

My wife is an English teacher. She explained to me what she does when she gets stuck. I mean, when she can’t find a word.

She gave me an example.

Often, her students ask her questions about how to translate things from French into English. For example, they might want to know how to say: “se rendre à”. The process that she follow goes like this: she looks for the essential meaning of “se rendre à”, meaning “to go to”. She says she does this in a flash of a second. However, she says that for her students it’s not so easy, and sometimes, her students, even in French are not able to know what the essential meaning of “se rendre à” is.

Sometimes, in English, she might find several possibilities on the “right-hand side” of the translation process, I mean, there might be several words in her head for “to go”, like “get to” or “drive to” or something similar.

It’s a process that works. She also reads a lot in English which helps to develop her vocabulary. But is it the best process ?

For me, clearly, no. It might be more realistic to expect students to do it this way, but it’s clearly not the best way. The best way is to think directly in the language without translating. That might sound unrealistic but with techniques like bi-directional translation, which I’m going to write about soon, it’s possible. The point is, the two languages are different. There are words like “se rendre à” which are difficult to translate because the two languages are different.

Take for example:

L’année prochaine, je vais avoir 35 ans.

Next year, I’m going to be 35.

It’s completely different, there’s no mention of years, and the verb is different. If you’re thinking in English, it’s no problem but if you’re translating using logic you’re stuck.

The best way is to familiarize yourself with the language: often, French people know theoretically that they should say “I will be 35” but they say “I will have 35”.

If you’re learning English as a French person, when you translate from English into French there will be no gaps, you will always find some kind of equivalent that you can understand the meaning, and if you can’t you’ve found a typical English expression.

So, when you’re learning always translate from the langauge you’re learning into your native tongue and not the other way round.

This is the long-term solution. The risk with translating “se rendre à” to “aller” and then “to go” is that you end up simplyfying your language.


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