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Translating English vs Studying English: Which is better?

Translation Error

Translating English vs Studying English: Which is better?

Are you an English learner who translates?
Do you see a word or phrase in your mother tongue and translate it into English?
Well, you may actually be making studying harder for yourself!

Translation Error

After reading an article written by jw.com about translating their booklets into over 750 languages, it really got me thinking! Translating a whole booklet and translating a single word in the classroom is processed in the same way! But, the million-dollar question is: is it effective? Below is a comparison and an analysis of the translation process for a professional translator and an English student. Do you use the same process? Please let me know if you disagree in the comments below or in our group chat.


Receive the Information

The first stage is of course receiving the language or information in a language that is not your mother tongue. Looking for similarities or familiarities is a natural response to identify words or phrases that you know or have seen before.

Potential Problems – Some English words look similar to words in your mother tongue, but have a complete different meaning! An example would be the Hungarian word ‘szimpatikus’ which sounds and looks very similar to the English word ‘sympathetic’, however the meaning is not the same. Not even close! We call these ‘false friends’.

You can check out some easily confusable English words here.

Potential Solutions – Don’t read words in isolation. Read the whole piece of text or information and judge the words you know in the intended context. A perfect example would be phrasal verbs in English: they should never be read in isolation as the meaning may differ in different contexts.


Analyse info

Once the information has been received it must then be processed. For both translators and students, this could mean understanding the context of the information as well the language used. Is the author’s meaning clear? Do you understand the purpose of the text?

Potential problems – A misunderstanding of the context or the language used can form a poor or inaccurate translation. This could/will make you less accurate, or even offensive, when communicating! Again, using the Hungarian language as an example, describing somebody as ‘warm’ in English is completely innocent whilst the Hungarian translation can be quite offensive and derogatory.

Potential Solutions – Use a dictionary with a translation tool! Of course, Google Translator and the rest have made translating much easier and made us much lazier when it comes to translations. But, how often do you check your translation is accurate? Check your newly translated words in a dictionary and see if the meaning is the same in both languages.


Once the information has cleared the analysis stage, we can then start to translate the information. We can start by translating the individual vocabulary, figuring out which words are phrases, which tense/s are used and which grammatical structure it is presented in. Finally, the context is vitally important as the words can be physically translated but the meaning should stay the same!

Potential Problems – Losing the meaning through translation! What is the point of translating text if the understanding of it will be completely different? Also, through translating words and phrases, we do not always have a perfect translation. Often enough, we decided on a ‘close fit’ or the best word that has the closest meaning to the one we are trying to translate. This can be a recipe for disaster!

Potential Solutions – Don’t guess, find the solution! If there is a word or phrase you aren’t sure about, check it. Whether this is with a friend, your English teacher or translation software. You have already identified there is a potential mistake so it would be a smart idea to find the answer.


Check accuracy

We then check our freshly translated information, whether mentally, verbally or in written form. This is where we see the ‘first draft’ of our work! The big question is though, can we identify our own mistakes? If the answer is yes, brilliant! We can correct our mistakes right there! If the answer is no however, then we may have a problem.

Potential Problems – By not being able to see our own mistakes, we are not able to correct them. If we are not able to correct them, then we will probably make that mistake again! Pretty soon, this mistake will become a habit and will become even more difficult to erase or alter. Mistakes lead to misinterpretations, which we have mentioned earlier, but also slow down both the learning process and translating process.

Potential Solutions – Say the words out loud or right them down. Is the context the same? Do the words have the same meaning as the original version? Does anything seem not quite right? Proofreading your own translations is a tricky skill but is incredibly useful for reducing your mistakes as a student and a translator.


Used & Edited

So, we have completed the whole process and now we are ready to communicate this information! How exciting! As the communicator, we often judge our message depending on the response of the recipient. If you tell a joke, did that person laugh? If you wrote a report for your boss, did he praise you? If you write in a magazine, do people buy it? This is feedback we use to alter our communication to make it more accurate in the future, if needed.

Potential Problems – By the time you reach this stage of the translation process, it is too late! You are either going to express your translated version accurately or make a mistake! This can be daunting for English learners and professional translators alike. If there is a mistake involved, well … we know what the consequences can be.

Potential Solutions – Once a mistake has been made, it is all about making sure you don’t make the same mistake twice! Identify where you went wrong, correct it and learn from it. To do this, you may need to start the whole translation process again.


Does this process sound familiar to you or would you describe your system differently?

Please let us know in the comments below or in our group chat forum here.


Enjoy and keep learning!



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