Can you translate Italian word for word like in English?
You’re probably hoping the answer is yes, but fear the answer is no, right?
Well, you’re right. You cannot translate Italian word for word.
That is called literal translation and any translator or language teacher will tell you to always avoid it.
You might be wondering why. Well, have a look at the short dialogue below:
A: In mouth to the wolf!
B: Thank you!
Does it make any sense? Of course not.
This is because we translated literally the following Italian dialogue:
A: In bocca al lupo!
A used an Italian idiomatic expression to wish B good luck.
You would’ve never guessed its meaning if you just had translated it word for word.
Why can’t you translate Italian word for word like English?
Ideally, if you read something in Italian or listen to someone speaking Italian, you have to forget your native language.
This is not easy, of course, especially if it’s the first time you’re learning a second language.
Being tempted to translate word for word is completely natural, especially if you’re a beginner. And it’s ok if you find yourself doing so at that stage.
However, it’s not ideal to have the habit of translating word for word, so we really recommend avoiding doing so.
Here’s a list of reasons why you shouldn’t translate word for word:
- Many words don’t have a direct equivalent in English;
- Many words have different meanings;
- The meaning of some words will depend on the context;
- Translating word for word can be very stressful, tiring, and confusing;
- This way you’re focusing on single words rather than a whole topic.
How to stop translating in your head?
You should imagine your brain is split into two areas: one for your native language and one for Italian.
When you’re speaking Italian, you should switch off the other area.
This is because each language is a whole new world, has its own structure, and works independently.
Here are some step-by-step recommendations:
- Try to be aware whenever you find yourself translating word for word;
- Tell yourself to stop doing so;
- Read the whole text or listen to the whole conversation;
- If there’s just one word you don’t understand, don’t worry and carry on;
- If you don’t understand the topic at all, read the text again or ask the person who’s talking to you to explain again.
Understanding Italian without translating word for word comes with practice and patience, so don’t give up!
The first step could be considering “Ripeti con me!”, which is an Italian audio course to think directly in Italian.