Mental Translation is reprocessing words, phrases or sentences from the language you are trying to acquire into your native language.

When learning a foreign language such as English, students tend to get into their own heads too much and try and translate every sentence, usually word for word.

Do not translate! If you want to do one good thing for yourself as a language learner, then try your best not to translate sentences from your mother tongue to English in your head while talking to someone. Why? There are many reasons.

Firstly, you are constantly encountering barriers and thinking to yourself how much “you do not know”. You make pauses every now and then to look up a word, ask your teacher for help or check the dictionary for that one expression that you will use once, and almost certainly forget later. Secondly, translation is a skill that you probably haven’t quite mastered. Chances are high that your mother tongue and English are not mirror languages, so one word or phrase in your native language will not have a direct and absolute pair in English.

The best thing you can do, when you are in class or in a situation that requires communication, is to try and use the things you have learned and that you know as correctly and as accurately as possible. Look at it this way – learning a language is like building a house in the old times. You have to do everything yourself, from floor to ceiling, from door to bed, which requires effort and time.

Mental translation is like constantly attempting to do work from your home despite the fact you do not have the right conditions, and when you are looking for help for that translation all of the time, it is like you are persistently borrowing things from your neighbour. You borrow a tool to do some repairs, then bring it back and then borrow it again in five minutes, and this can go on indefinitely. In time, you will have everything you need in the house, but by then it’s far more desirable to use what you already have and to work even harder on making a new one. This is not an easy road, but in the end, you will are left with a fully-functional house.

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About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.



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