Using Translation as a Method of Language Learning

translation for language learning

These days when you open up a search engine looking for information about learning foreign languages, you get thousands of results, from advice on learning methods and styles to fun apps and games to help achieve your goals.

Among the many innovative learning strategies, the translation method has somehow got lost and gone out of style. Most modern language learners believe that the best way to learn their target languages is to limit the use of their native tongue. When used in a thoughtful way, however, translation can be a great tool for learners, as those who prefer ‘traditional’ language acquisition methods are well aware.

While professional translation is performed by qualified, skilled translators, anyone trying to pick up a new language can utilize translation in their journey to fluency. As far as we’re concerned, this method is never ‘in’ or ‘out’: it’s timeless. Let’s take a more detailed look at how translation can help you improve your language skills.

How can translation help you to learn a language?

Here are the top three ways translation can further your language acquisition:

  • Translating between languages can reveal their structural differences, as well as any similarities they may share such as vocabulary or word order.
  • The translation method is ideal for helping learners realize how different languages can convey a message in vastly different ways.
  • Translation is fantastic at engaging ‘both parts’ of your brain; your native and target languages. It forces you to become accustomed to switching between your languages at a moment’s notice, which strengthens your linguistic abilities.

It’s all about regular practice

As with anything, practice makes perfect. Try and make translation part of your regular study routine, whether it’s translating individual words and phrases, or challenging yourself by finding short articles online and translating them.

Although we are singing the praises of translation as a language learning tool, the benefits are severely limited if you try and do it alone. Make sure you have a language tutor who can review your work and get you to the level you want to be.

The many benefits of translation

When learning a new language, we often rely on visual aids or gestures, both to make ourselves understood and to ensure new words and phrases are logged into our memories.

This strategy of drawing, miming, or pointing is simple and effective when it comes to concrete words such as ‘table’, ‘house’, or ‘picture’, but how about abstract words and expressions like ‘sympathy’, ‘feeling’, or ‘out of the blue’? In these cases, translation is efficient, reliable, and inevitable.

A secret benefit of using translation in this way is that, as well as acquiring vocabulary in your new language, you can actually learn to understand your native language better, as it gives you an insight into how languages differ from each other.

Just remember that, while online translators and dictionaries are helpful tools, you need to learn how to use them correctly, or you could commit some serious linguistic faux pas! Run tricky phrases past your language tutor or a trustworthy native speaker, just to be sure.

Practical steps for using translation as a language learning method

So, you’re sold on the idea of using translation as a tool for language learning, but where do you start?

If you are a complete newbie to the language, a good first step is to download one of the many apps that teaches vocabulary through repetitive translation. For more advanced learners, however, try the following method:

  • Take a few short paragraphs in your target language (around 400 words is perfect). It’s important that you choose a text that suits your level, that is easy enough for you to understand.
  • Translate the text from your target language into your native language. Take your time over it and consult reliable dictionaries where necessary. Pay close attention to the context of the text; words shift in meaning depending on the context.
  • Finally, take your translation and back-translate it, that is, translate it back into the language you’re learning. Don’t look at the original text while doing this. These back-translations give you an opportunity to think in your target language and are a fantastic way of spotting your linguistic errors, such as syntax, spelling, and grammar.

Here’s a quick summary of this method: if you are a native English speaker studying French, translate a French text into English, and then take the English translation and translate it back into French.


As you can see, there is no reason not to use translation as part of your language learning strategy. While it may not be as modern as other popular learning methods, it engages your brain, highlights differences between languages, and gets results.

We predict a big comeback in the use of translation for language learning!

Remember that, while translation is useful for acquiring and practicing a new language, for texts outside of your personal use, it is always best to hire a trustworthy professional language service. BeTranslated’s skilled translators are experienced in a wide range of specialisms. For more information or a free, no-obligation quote, get in touch today.