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Is it a good idea to practice not translating in order to understand what is being said?

So right now I'm at the upper echelon of A1 of Italian, maybe even lower A2. I wouldn't say I have mastered A1 yet, but I got a 93% on an online A1 proficiency test and I can have a basic conversation as long as it's not too complicated. Anyway, I was thinking...going forward in my studies, is it a good idea (for learning any language) to try not to instinctively translate what is being said to your native language in order to understand it? Should I try to recognize what is being said literally from reading or hearing the target language? It's very difficult not to translate in my head because I do it automatically, even if I know 100% what is being said. But is this a bad habit to have?

September 14, 2017



In my experience, it's not always best to. At the start of learning a language, it's okay. You need to, in fact. But as you dig deeper into the language, you gradually stop translating to your native language. You start thinking of it as its own, you don't need to translate it. If there's an occasion that calls for you to be a translator, then go for it! I'm not saying it's bad to translate to your native language, just don't do it too often. :)

Good luck!


IMO it's generally sort of a necessity when you're starting out. You'll often hear - to adapt what I've heard about French to your situation, specifically of learning Italian - that "you have to stop thinking like an English speaker and start thinking like a French speaker". Which is true - the marker of fluency, I think, is when you both understand other people and make yourself understood with no conscious effort on your part. (I remember walking out of a several-hour French exam in school and hearing my fellow native English speakers talking, I thought "wwhhOooA this is weird, not having to mentally strain myself to figure out what people around me are saying", and it struck me that that's what "fluency" means.) But until you figure out... well... what exactly the "Italian way of thinking" entails, I'm not sure you have any other option than to fall back on the crutch of quietly translating everything in your head. I think it's an organic process and you'll slowly wean yourself off translation the further you progress. But at the A1-A2 level I wouldn't sweat it.


Yeah I'm speaking to a native from Italy and she says that my biggest problem is that I need to start thinking like an Italian rather than an American, because it hurts me a lot when I attempt certain translations that I would otherwise know without really any trouble. I step on my own foot a lot because something that should be easy for me becomes more difficult because English is structured completely different from Italian. When it comes to sentence structure and word order, yeah I think this is my biggest issue right now.

I'm still mad at myself because I translated a sentence to "I drink the juice from the orange" and then I found out it was just "I drink orange juice" and I died. Something so simple that I literally know how to say but because I translated it in my head first I ended up making a mistake.


You have to learn the Italian structures, and the words in context. Don't worry about the mistakes, little by little you will learn from them. Don't repeat like a parrot, associate always the sentences with their meaning (which it's more a feeling, and not the literal words in your native language), and from time to time take interesting sentences of Duolingo and make variations, speaking to yourself. Don't rush, we all like the XPs but it's more important what you learn. And finally, don't wait until the end of the tree to stay in contact with native material, in my case I like youtube, but it could be whatever thing that inspires you. I hope I have been of some help to you. Good luck with your Italian and your other languages!


Well, it's one approach. My two years of French classes were all in French. However, this isn't something you can do using Duolingo.

You can experiment by watching movies with Italian subtitles instead of English (assuming that is your native language). There are probably some other programs that don't feature translation, but Duolingo isn't one of them.


I think "Duolingo Stories" would be very useful to get Immersion in the language, and avoid too much translating in your head. I made the entire Portuguese from Spanish tree just to try it, and I'm loving it!! :-)

P.S. From Spanish language you don't have the Labs tab, you need to change to English to have it.


Yeah I'm really excited to see where the Duolingo Stories thing goes. When I saw them I was like "yeah this is exactly what I need". Unfortunately they don't have Italian at the moment.


I did all the stories in Spanish and liked them quite a bit, although there were a few technical issues with the sound sometimes. I've not attempted the Portuguese stories yet even though I've finished the Portuguese tree and started Portuguese from Spanish.

Hopefully, they will work out the problems with the Stories and decide to keep the feature and expand it. However, even if that happens, I'd expect it to be a long process. For me, it's been important to use other resources beyond Duolingo.


In the Portuguese D.S. there are new expressions and words that don't appear in the entire Duolingo course (e.g. the expression "por sinal"), along with an online dictionary where you can pick words if you get lost. However, if you don't understand something new, it's better to wait a little, because many times there are associated exercises that explains what you have just seen new, without translating anything.

Regarding sound, there's still some robotic feeling, it's like the sentences are glued by chunks. I totally agree that the more resources you use, the better.

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