Translation to Learn or Teach Spanish


How and why to use translation in Spanish class?


Many times you might have heard your language teachers tell you not to use translation directly from one language to another. While this might be true since it doesn’t help in fluency, it does help you understand the structure of the new language. This helps you compare it to your mother tongue so you get a better idea of what you are getting yourself into… at least in the beginner stages of learning Spanish.


Communication in the classroom is essential and I like to use communicative activities to teach the language, but sometimes I find it useful to translate short sentences. Using translation in the classroom, my students find similarities and differences between the two languages.


It is about using translation to lean rather than learning to translate. Keep in mind, if you are a teacher, that if you are going to use translation in the classroom, this cannot be a multi-lingual class. All students must have an excellent knowledge of the first language.


For example, many of my Spanish language students get this sentence wrong: “Yo estudio” which means I study. Without translation and just using the sentences in a conversation, they would say “Yo soy estudio” which is literally I am study.


After I present them the mistake, and compare it to English, they wonder why they said something like it. In English it makes no sense at all and it is exactly the same structure (subject + verb).

What not to do?


In my experience, I do not recommend to use direct translation throughout the whole learning process. It is a good resource to introduce to students at the beginner levels, so they feel more comfortable with the new language and they understand the interaction between the two languages.


Also, using translation in the classroom tempts students to use their mother tongue. It is important to let them know this method won’t develop their communicative skills but rather teach them about the language. Little by little, as students progress, you can remove translation from the class allowing more space for the use of Spanish.

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Learn all the Spanish you need for real life.