An Education In Translation

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“Speech is external thought, and thought internal speech.”

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This article is the second in the “Four Modes of Language Learning” series and will primarily deal with ways to improve speaking skills. In my opinion speaking and listening might be the most challenging out of all the others to master. The reason being is that an immediate response time is required. If you want to work as an interpreter or acquire native fluency for professional reasons your speaking ability must be fully developed. On the other hand, when you write (a translator’s task) you have the luxury of collecting your thoughts, rereading passages or revising sentences. Although seemingly nonexistent, skills required for speaking and writing are different.  Many language service professionals have perfected the individual skills necessary to successfully work as both a Translator and an Interpreter. However complimentary, they are distinct professions that should not be viewed as one in the same. Take into consideration the music Industry, there are many singers who are also musicians but it should not be assumed that all singers can play a musical instrument. Let us take it further; is it fair to say that all musicians can dance professionally to the music they create? Certainly not!

So, how can one improve speaking skills? Practice, practice, practice; your response time will get better the more time you spend thinking in your new language. However, this can prove to be more challenging for language learners who are not constantly around native speakers. Try utilizing the internet for help. Join Skype conversation groups and insist upon speaking in your new language when you encounter natives of that language. When you think out loud or silently to yourself—do it in [insert language here]. It is not good enough to simply recall vocabulary and grammar rules when responding in your new language. At this point, words are only speech and do not have genuine meaning.  One must begin to think as a native speaker would. Learning a new language is not as simple as replacing a word with its translated equivalent. Rather, it is learning to see things from a different point of view. This is why it is impossible to learn a new language without also learning about the culture. We must begin to understand how they see the world. The key is to start thinking like a native speaker. Nineteenth century French writer, Antoine de Rivarol showed he understood the difference between knowing words and understanding the process of thought when he profoundly wrote “speech is external thought, and thought internal speech.”  Thinking in your new language—to the point to where you are dreaming in that language— will serve as proof that you are becoming a master at speaking.


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Irene Palmer | EN / FR > ES Translator & Proofreader

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