4 strategies to stop translating and start understanding

I will always remember the first time I traveled abroad on my ownI was 17 years old and went to Ireland to study English in an immersion program.

I perfectly remember the family that took me in, with their beautiful baby girl who was only a few months old.

And I remember the nerves of those day-to-day conversations. How I struggled to understand every word, every sentence... translating it into Spanish. I also remember the times afterwards remembering the conversations, and translating non-stop

And I also remember one of the many conversations at dinner time: Steven and Laura telling me about their last trip to Spain, the different schedules, the different food... And I was translating all the words, paying attention to new grammatical structures, to colloquial expressions I had not heard before but I thought I understood... Suddenly, I realized that the conversation had moved faster than I could translate, and I had not heard the last thing they had... asked me? Or maybe they were just waiting for me to comment on something..., horror! 

"What, how, can you repeat?", I was red with embarrassmentI felt like disappearing from there ("Tierra, trágame", as we say in Spanish).

Has something similar happened to you too?

How can you to prevent this from happening?

WHY TRANSLATING INTO YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE IS NOT THE BEST STRATEGY FOR UNDERSTANDING CONVERSATIONS

Translating may work for you when reading a text or watching a video (you can read it several times, or stop it and listen to it again), but, of course, this does not work in conversational Spanish.

When we talkWe don't plan what we are going to say, especially informally, so we don't plan what we are going to say. the speech is totally spontaneous.

In informal conversations always appear "the four heavy ones".The following are some of the most common symptoms: repetitions of ideas, doubts, false starts, and crutches. These four heavy can help you or make your life more difficult, it all depends on whether you know how to deal with them.

*Heavyannoying or boring (usually used to describe people)

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Let's introduce them to you. Tachá tachán... 

HEAVY NO. 1: REPETITIONS / REFORMULATIONS

When we have not planned what we are going to say in advance, we tend to repeat words and ideas. The repetition of an idea, either repeating the same words or using different ones (rephrasing) is very useful to better understand what the person is saying. This heavy is generous, gives you a second chance ; )

Sometimes, the repetition of a word indicates that it will repeat an idea, but not always.

Listen to this fragment (better with headphones) of a REAL CONVERSATION in which Alberto rephrases what he says:

A: § because for a cup alone/ it is very strong, that is →/// there will be people who like very strong tea, right? ↑ the same as coffee, but not for me ↓

 

WEIGHING NO. 2: DOUBTS / FULL BREAKS

As we have already mentioned, conversational Spanish is not prepared, so that we often have doubts, sometimes to give us time to think about what we are going to say or to better choose the words we want to use. In Spain, we use the sound "uh...", and in many Latin American countries they say "this...". And the sound "mmm" is quite common and widely used both in Spain and in America.

Something we tend to do a lot to save time as well is lengthen a vowel of the words. Listen to how Alexandra stretches the "e" into "de", and "u" into "un" in the following audio. 

A: We what-what we were then commenting on- thinking is→// we know that Consum is another type dee→// of dee///→ business model no↑ It is not uun →// It is not uun→/ a regular company/ but is → co- co- a cooperative ↓.

 

WEIGHING Nº 3: FALSE STARTS

Listen to this audio: start with "I don't know if...", continue with "You did" and start the sentence again to continue it (without finishing the sentence!). 

A: I don't know sii→/ Have you-have you tried it-have you tried Turkish coffee→?

What a mess, isn't it? Well, that's how we talk in conversations. It's hard to translate this, isn't it? 😯 

False starts are very frequentoccur when we want to say something and at the moment we start to say it we think that we can express it better in another way and we start again. If you learn to identify them, you will get lost less often.. 

 

WEIGHING NO. 4: CRUTCHES

A crutch is a word or expression of "support we use when we converse. Fulfill important features in conversations and can help you understand the intentions of the other person. They have many uses: to maintain interest, clarify, underline or nuance something, etc.

Many people use them automatically and, sometimes, some of them become fashionable. This is a very personal thing and everyone has the habit of using some more than others. You can listen to the two most used by Alberto as follows. It says "no" twice and "man" once. Can you hear them?

 

Now that you know the 4 heavyweights, te propose the following: 

The next time you overhear a real conversation, try to pay attention to these four weights and focus on the words that really provide meaningThese are the ones that will help you understand without translating and follow the conversation.

 

Knowing this when I traveled to Ireland would have saved me a lot of discomfort, and would have helped me to participate in the conversations with that lovely family I lived with that July 2001.

I hope it helps you too. 

And don't obsessions I worry too much about understanding conversational Spanish, it is a matter of practice and time, like everything else in life.

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