Use translation as a learning technique

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Translation as well as writing is a form of production that relieves the pressure speaking entails. No one is looking, there is room for hesitation or a pause for the search of a word that conveys the exact meaning you want to express but doesn’t spring to mind. On account of all of these reasons and more, translation can be a very effective way to learn in a stress-free environment.

Naturally, you may be wondering about who is going to revise your text. The good news is that there is a “DIY” technique, so to speak.

Reverse translation

Step 1

Select a text or dialogue in English you find highly practical or very appealing. Having access to the internet, you are spoilt for choice. On the other hand, you may want to use material from your textbook.

Once you’ve made up your mind about the text, let’s get down to business.

Initially, stick to a few lines; a paragraph will do.

Grab a blank piece of paper and translate it into Spanish. Take your time to make an accurate translation. Now, set it aside for the time being.

Step 2

Come back to it later or the following day and translate back into English. It goes without saying that at this point you should steer clear of the original. Leave a gap if you don’t remember a certain word/expression but keep going, don’t let this frustrate you. It’s the overall activity that counts.

Once you consider your job is done to your best capacity, revisit the original text and compare and correct.

Reverse translation requires concentration and attention to detail, which makes it a very valuable study technique. Besides, it’s hands-on and entertaining.

I include here some samples to get you started


·        Text: Changes in town

·        Dialogue: Comic Strip. (Unscramble and correct first)


·        Text: London Notting Hill Carnival:

·        Chunks: If you find a whole text intimidating though, you can also use reverse translation with what we call in the teaching jargon “chunks*”. Same philosophy but easier to address than a text.

*Definition from the British Council website

Chunks are groups of words that can be found together in language. They can be words that always go together, such as fixed collocations, or that commonly do, such as certain grammatical structures that follow rules. A listener or reader uses their knowledge of chunks to help them predict meaning and therefore be able to process language in real-time. Chunks include lexical phrases, set phrases, and fixed phrases. 
‘Utter disaster’, ‘by the way’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘encourage + someone + infinitive’, ‘dependent + on’ are all examples of chunks.

Chunks selected from



Step 1: choose chunks Step 2: translate + fold so that the chunks are out of sight Step 3: translate back into English + self-correct
Chunk My translation Reverse translation
Shape the climate change debate Dar forma al debate del cambio climático
To say the least Cuando menos  
Raise awareness of Concienciar de  
Admit defeat Admitir la derrota  
Give sb a platform to Dar a alguien voz/un espacio (público)
The warmest on record El más cálido del que se tenga constancia
Have impeccable manners Tener unos modales impecables  

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