Stop Translating in Your Head - Why? | ILA French Language School
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Learning French

Enhance Your French Immersion Experience – Stop Translating in Your Head – Why?

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Enhance Your French Immersion Experience - Stop Translating in Your Head

I have often found over my time learning French in France that translating in my head is a bit of a false friend. When I’m in my classes at my French Language School I often hear a phrase that seems understandable at a glance. However, the word order is almost incomprehensible and renders this set of individually understandable words into complete obscurity. Once I find the translation however it does feel good to have made sense of it so translating in my head does give some short-term satisfaction. It is short-term however and this natural tendency can at hold you back in the long run. In this article, I would like to discuss why it’s a bad habit and what the alternatives are.

It Slows You Down When You Are Learning French In France

This is the main issue with translating in your head. If you are talking with people in French you have to take what they have said, convert it to your own language, think of a response, convert it to French and then say it back. If you bear in mind also that what you want to say may not have a literal translation and requires a completely different approach you can see that just responding to this one phrase is becoming quite a lengthy and exhausting experience. If you take listening as well it is unlikely that you will speak to someone who is so in tune with your French abilities that they know which sentences will be easy for you to understand quickly and which you need a bit more time for. So, if you are trying to translate in your head in your French class or out and about it’s very likely you’ll miss whatever is said afterwards. This means even if the person you are talking to says something you would recognise you have no idea what it is. You are too busy thinking to listen, and if you’re a shocking multi-tasker like me it’s all the worse.

When you get to the higher levels of learning French it will become even more important. Every single one of us who is studying at my French Language School in Montpellier has at one point or another felt that the French speak SO fast. At the more advanced stages this is even more noticeable, speaking might be a little different because you can keep what you say nicely within your comfort zone but there is no guarantee that another French speaker will do the same. I find particularly when talking to people in public day-to-day it’s tougher too because my teachers are professionals who are used to being patient and letting students take their time. It’s easy to worry however that for the other locals it’s a bit annoying to have to repeat themselves over and over so this race to understand as quick as possible pushes you towards what you think is the quickest option; translating what they have said. This is short term thinking and if you are serious about learning French in France you need to start thinking long term and lay good foundations.

Learn French Whilst Improving You’re Critical Thinking

There are also many psychological benefits to trying to think in another language rather than just converting things into your own. A recent study by the University of Chicago suggested that thinking in a foreign language effects reasoning in a positive way. Apparently, the subject is more likely to make decisions that are less biased, more analytic and more systematic. The narrative goes that a foreign language creates distance which is also often spoken of in relation to mindfulness and controlling emotions.

So, if you want to slam your development into top gear, drastically improve your time learning French in France and at the same time improve your reasoning skills and general mental wellbeing you should start trying to think in French as much as you can. You will quickly feel an improvement in your understanding and see an improvement on your French immersion course in France.