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IELTS preparation tips: effective translation

Published on April 1, 2019

Subtitles on or subtitles off? For English language learners, this is a common question. If I turn the subtitles off, I can focus on my listening skills. If I put the subtitles in English, I can easier understand the actors. If the subtitles are in my 1st language, I can truly understand the movie. So, which is best? I’ll ask you a question. After watching an English language movie with subtitles in your language, what do you remember? Most people will only remember their language and forget the English. And that’s my point. Translating helps you understand, but it doesn’t always help you learn English. So, while preparing for IELTS when should you translate, and when should you not? Let’s look at what to try and what to avoid.

Active translating – Try it!

This is a great activity for reading and writing practice. If you can, find some texts that are both in English and in your own language. For example, an online magazine article that has language options. Next, only read the English. While reading,translate the article into your 1st language. Then, take your translation notes and compare it with the article in your language. Was your translation perfect? Probably not. For parts that were difficult or translated poorly, try and understand where you went wrong.This is a great way to challenge your understanding of English, and to find areas you need to improve.

Flash cards – Try it!

This is a classic language learning technique. If you have never tried, or haven’t tried recently, you should! Using translation with flash cards can be a great learning activity. This is how you do it. Get a few hundred blank cards. Next,write English on one side, and your language on the other. Try and use words that you need to practice. Another key point is to write in full sentences. Full sentences allow you to learn both vocabulary and grammar at the same time.If you want to save trees, you can download some flashcard apps. There are lots to choose from!

Interpreting for others – Try it!

Sometimes your English language skills can be very helpful. You might have friends and family who don’t have strong English and need your assistance. Why not help interpret for them? Interpreting means helping someone by translating from one language to another. This is a great activity for two reasons. First, it helps your friends and family. Second, it is excellent IELTS prep . When you translate in real situations, it really pushes you to be clear and accurate with your English. It also builds confidence. A total win!

Writing translations on your readings – Avoid it!

I have taught many IELTS preparation classes . I know the test well and I know how students succeed. The students I see who succeed don’t write translations in their textbooks and notebooks. So what do they do? They write the definition or synonym in English. Using English-to-English dictionaries pushes you to keep your brain focused on English.This means you don’t waste IELTS preparation time thinking in your 1st language.English-to-English dictionaries also help your paraphrasing practice. And if you don’t know, paraphrasing is a very important skill to have for IELTS.

Using your device to translate everything – Avoid it!

Many people agree that we are losing our ability to read maps. We can no longer take a paper map and use it to go somewhere. Why is this? It’s because everyone has a phone with Google maps on it. The mapping app does all the work. You just follow the arrow and listen to the directions. You don’t need to worry about understanding the map.

Why are we discussing maps, isn’t this an IELTS blog? I am doing it to prove a point.Our phones have Google maps and they have very powerful translating apps, too. So, just like google maps weakens our map-reading skills, the translating apps weaken our English skills. If your goal is to understand something quickly and easily, translate with your phone. If your goal is to improve your English and exercise your skills, put your phone away!

Letting your friends do the translating – Avoid it!

This is the opposite point to the one above. If you have friends or classmates that you study English with, don’t let them translate everything for you. It might seem helpful if your classmate explains something in your 1st language, but this wastes your time. In this situation, your classmate is getting all the benefits. While he/she is doing all the work translating, his/her English is improving. Your classmate is getting the English exercise, and you are not. Imagine going to the gym, then asking your friend to do all the exercise. Will you get stronger? Nope!

As we can see, translating while preparing for IELTS can be both good and bad. Be sure to review how you use translating in your studies. Using it right might get you the score you are aiming for.