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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 153 of 170
09 January 2015 at 6:29pm | IP Logged 
Obligatory note about how not all translation is the same.

I'm generally with Bakunin and victorhart here, but I think it also depends on the personality type? I'm very verbal and I can't think in pictures (or create/keep clear mental images etc), so even if I was forced, I don't think I could avoid translating in my mind, probably into the closest language. (for example I might translate individual words into German while reading in Swedish or Dutch)

I guess I'm mostly curious, do you honestly avoid associations with L1 or stronger L2-L3? And isn't it boring to use pictures? I would need something quite personalized in order not to be bored with such a method, I think.

victorhart, do you have any negative experiences with parallel texts and dictionaries? Well, obviously you can have a bad dictionary or a creative translation, and you can use good tools incorrectly too, but I don't think that's a reason to ditch them altogether. It doesn't take much time to teach - with dictionaries, you can just show some examples in the learner's native language or even limit dictionary use to L2->L1 only. Which doesn't mean limiting it only to comprehension, btw - I often look up a word for the first time when I'm about to use it in a written sentence, and I've heard it a lot but need to double-check it - I almost always discover new details, and sometimes I realize I was completely off. (for example, as a relatively advanced learner of English, I saw the word hilarious many times in forum discussions and thought it's kinda like epic/awesome/great, without other specific connotations)

Basically, I think that some learners do need a structure and it's harmful to deprive them of it.
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Ari
Heptaglot
Senior Member
Norway
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 Message 154 of 170
09 January 2015 at 7:20pm | IP Logged 
Basically, I disagree with the premise that learning through translation links the word you're learning to a word in your native language. Here's something that's happened to me a bazillion times: I'm working through my Anki deck. I get to a card, let's say it's the card for the character 殆. I'm thinking "pronounced 'toi5', means 'dangerous'". I look at the back and it says "toi5, perilous". And I check the card off as "easy", because I was correct. I got the meaning of the card. I didn't get the exact word, but that's irrelevant. The fact that this happens all the time suggests to me that my brain has not linked words (or characters, in this case) to specific L1 (or English, in this case) counterparts. Rather, I think about the concept that the word on the card represents, and then I put a word on it, because I cannot write down the concept itself on the back. Memorizing the specific word is more work for the brain. It's easier for the brain to connect to the general concept, and then translate that concept into the correct word (or a similar one) when needed. Just like when you read a book, you don't remember the exact phrasing, you just remember the meaning. Or when you think back to a conversation. In extreme cases, as some polyglots on these forums can attest, you might not even remember what language the person was speaking, but you remember what they said. The brain always takes the path of least resistance, so it will not memorize the word, but the thought.

Which is to say that linking to a word and linking to a concept is the same thing, and any advantages you feel you are getting from not translating are either illusory or due to other factors.

Now, I do agree that people who use "traditional" methods, which involve a lot of translation, tend to do worse than people who avoid translations and focus on input. But this is correlation, not causation. The problem isn't that the traditional methods use translation, it's that they don't use enough input. I did lots of translation exercises in school when studying French, and I didn't learn squat, but that's more likely linked to the fact that I got little to no input.

In my mind, the student who tries to learn from native input alone is as misguided at the one who tries to learn from translation alone. The first is guilty of using an intermediary technique in the beginner stage, and the second of using a beginner technique in the intermediary stage. This explains both the success and the high dropout rate of the NLA institute. People drop out because they're not getting anywhere in the beginning, due to bad methods, but once they get past the beginner stage, the method is well suited and they progress rapidly.

At the basis of this is the age-old human tendency to all-or-nothing, black-and-white, "halo effect" thinking. Too much sugar will give you diabetes: NOBODY SHOULD EAT ANY CARBS EVER, not getting enough input will lead to lack of fluency: YOU SHOULD ONLY DO INPUT AND NEVER TRANSLATE. Same kind of exaggerated reaction.
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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 4705 days ago

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 Message 155 of 170
09 January 2015 at 8:47pm | IP Logged 
Ari wrote:
In my mind, the student who tries to learn from native input alone is as misguided at the one who tries to learn from translation alone. The first is guilty of using an intermediary technique in the beginner stage, and the second of using a beginner technique in the intermediary stage. This explains both the success and the high dropout rate of the NLA institute. People drop out because they're not getting anywhere in the beginning, due to bad methods, but once they get past the beginner stage, the method is well suited and they progress rapidly.

Slow doesn't mean bad. It's just an incubation period, and it generally ensures understanding sooner.
To me the fundamental difference here is that input with minimal supplementary techniques (pre-made parallel texts, SRS) is guaranteed to take you much further than translating and the formal methods.

Also, you seem to be comparing the methods by their ability to produce good speakers fast.
2 persons have voted this message useful



Ari
Heptaglot
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Norway
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Speaks: Swedish*, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese
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 Message 156 of 170
09 January 2015 at 9:38pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
To me the fundamental difference here is that input with minimal supplementary techniques (pre-made parallel texts, SRS) is guaranteed to take you much further than translating and the formal methods.


See, when I've been talking about "translating", I've basically been meaning things like parallel texts and SRS. Those are my bread and butter. And they both rely on translation and are thus forbidden in the NLA method.

EDIT: From my perspective, this sounds like "If you're going from the farm to the island, you're better off taking the boat than the car, because the car will sink" and I'm saying "sure, but isn't it even better to take the car to the shore and then take the boat across? Going by boat over dry land is almost as silly as driving your car into the sea."

Quote:
Also, you seem to be comparing the methods by their ability to produce good speakers fast.


What other criteria are there than the quality and the speed of the result? Enjoyment, I guess? But that's subjective.

Edited by Ari on 09 January 2015 at 9:41pm

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Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 4705 days ago

9753 posts - 15775 votes 
4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: Danish, Romanian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Slovenian, Catalan, Czech, Galician, Dutch, Swedish

 
 Message 157 of 170
09 January 2015 at 11:35pm | IP Logged 
Well as I've said many times, I agree about pre-made translations and dictionaries, but not about translation exercises (especially L2-L1 translation is mostly pointless for improving your L2 knowledge).

And I agree about the speed and quality. I was questioning the focus on speaking. If we compare all four skills, a natural approach totally beats using traditional textbooks for too long, imo.
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patrickwilken
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Germany
radiant-flux.net
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 Message 158 of 170
10 January 2015 at 8:33am | IP Logged 
Sorry to ask a really stupid question, but what do people really mean when the talk about using translations to learn?

I've benefited a lot reading German ebooks with an English pop-up dictionary. I certainly would not have been able to tackle the level of books I have so early without a dictionary to help, and when I am reading I certainly don't feel I am translating back into English. I am at the point now where I am starting to read without a dictionary (I'd love to use a German-German dictionary, but the Duden on the Kindle is fairly useless).

I have also done roughly the same amount of movie watching where I have only listened extensively, but I think I picked up most of my vocabulary from reading, and it felt much more efficient to get the rough translation of words on the fly as I read, rather than working them out from context (esp. when my reading level was relatively weak).

Edited by patrickwilken on 10 January 2015 at 8:36am

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Ari
Heptaglot
Senior Member
Norway
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2314 posts - 5695 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese
Studies: Czech, Latin, German

 
 Message 159 of 170
10 January 2015 at 10:03am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
especially L2-L1 translation is mostly pointless for improving your L2 knowledge.

I wholehartedly agree. I was reacting against the NLA approach where all translation is discouraged, including popup dictionaries and parallel texts.

Quote:
And I agree about the speed and quality. I was questioning the focus on speaking. If we compare all four skills, a natural approach totally beats using traditional textbooks for too long, imo.


Where did I focus on speaking? I certainly didn't mean to. Personally I tend to emphasise listening, which is why I recommend massive auditory input. And again, I think presenting it as EITHER "natural approach" OR "traditional methods" is presenting a false dichotomy. I'm only saying that using the "natural approach" is innefficient at the beginner stage of learning a language (except maybe if you're learning a transparent language, like studying French knowing Spanish).

And above all, I was trying to argue against the harmful idea that using translations as a tool for your studying can "hurt" your language and be something you have to work hard to "undo" later in your studies.
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s_allard
Triglot
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 Message 160 of 170
10 January 2015 at 4:08pm | IP Logged 
Bakunin wrote:
...

Looking at the failure rates of traditional language learning which relies on translation, grammar
analysis and speaking from day one, I can't help but feel that the translation/grammar-camp hasn't
figured it out yet.

If I can weigh in briefly (ha!) in this debate on the place of translation in second language learning, I'll
start off by saying that I'm fully in the translation, grammar analysis and speaking from day one camp.
I question this assertion about the failure rates of so-called traditional language learning, which I think
here means classroom methods usually associated with secondary school, but that is another debate.

In my opinion, and I may be wrong, is that the debate so far has centred on learning L2 through L1 by
way of translation. As has been pointed out, this creates a host of problems and particularly the
tendency to impose grammatical, lexical and semantic structures of L1 on to L2. So, while translation
can be a sort of crutch because it gives us "quick approximation" in L1, it is ultimately detrimental.

It is therefore best to avoid L1 and learn directly or naturally how to use L2 to express one's
communicative needs. I actually think that this is a good idea, especially in an immersive environment.
If I'm learning Thai in Thailand, I could go to the marketplace with my tutor and learn the names of
various fruits and vegetables without ever passing by their L1 equivalents.

This is the whole idea of learning to "think" in the language without translation. For example,
Middlebury College, in Vermont, USA, and known for its famous summer intensive language
programs, requires that students sign a "language pledge" that says that the students must at all times
use the target language otherwise risk expulsion from the program. Considering that a six-week
program is around $10,000 US, there is a great incentive to start speaking exclusively in L2 from day
one.

This is all good but where I want to introduce a nuance is that instead of looking at translation in terms
of L1 to L2 and the concomitant problems, we should look at it more from the perspective of L2 to L1.
I actually think that this is something we tend to do anyways. For example, this is how we use subtitles
to break down a new language into its component parts. Right now, for example, I'm watching a
Korean TV show and I find that I can pick out all sorts of things by trying to match the sounds with
meaning - not with the English words themselves.

Seen from this perspective, I think it can be very useful to contrast two languages with emphasis on
going from L2 to L1 and avoiding as much as possible going from L1 to L2. For example, the French
verb aller is often to go in English but not always. In terms of usage, the two verbs overlap in some
areas and diverge in others. By highlighting this contrast, I think one can reduce some of the risks of
interference.

Something that I think is very instructive is to study a professional translation of a text from L1 to L2.
Here it is interesting to see how a native speaker of L2 renders the meanings of L1. It's not about going
from L1 to L2; it's more about contrasting how L1 and L2 render the same meaning.   This is great for
understanding how L2 works and emphasizing that one cannot translate word-for-word from L1 to L2.

So, while I agree totally with what has been said about the perils of translating from L1 to L2 in
language learning, I think that using translations judiciously from the L2 perspective can be very
enlightening, especially at the advanced level.

Similarly, I believe in the usefulness of grammatical analysis and speaking from day one. It's a question
of how to do it. But that discussion will have to wait.   


Edited by s_allard on 10 January 2015 at 4:10pm



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