Blog Tips to Learn Italian

Tips To Learn Italian: #5 Avoid Word-For-Word Translation

TIP 5: Avoid literal translation

Translating is tempting during the first stages of learning. But not necessarly it always works: there might be some expressions that are culture bound and they just don’t work when you translate them – you have to understand them and adapt them into an equivalent.

Sometimes word order might be different: think about direct and indirect pronouns in Italian and English “I have told you the truth” is “ti ho detto la verità”. If you get stuck in translation and focus on the native structures that sound more familiar, you will have “io ho detto ti/tu/te la verità”  but the order in Italian is completely different, with the pronoun before the verb and not after it.

In doing so, your brain will not be trained to produce phrases of its own because it is confused between the two systems that overlap all the time.


The real change happens when you get to a stage where you can play around with the second language and your brain does not go through the native language anymore – you just produce the Italian phrase using the structures that would be natural in Italian.

It is not easy, it takes time, but how do we do that?

Rather than learning isolated words, try learning the whole sentence, meaning how the word works in context. That is why I do my best to discourage translation during fill-in-the-gaps or grammar exercises and insist on the importance of the practical context of the word. This is true especially for Italian, a language that relies on non-linguistic elements like the gestures and on the tone of the voice.

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