Strategies for Thinking in English

It is normal for English language learners to sometimes directly translate a word or phrase from his/ her native language while writing in English. On occasion, you may encounter a whole ELL text, or portion of a text, that appears to be a straight translation. This writing will appear somewhat confusing and disjointed. For example, this is a straight Google translation of a passage from a French essay:

What can we read various fragments of life Quebec workers engaged in union and industrial action during the 1830s? What their experience is it indicative of a social environment straddling tradition and modernity? Already, we can say that these early activists are generally derived from trades (printers , shoemakers, tailors , carpenters , etc.) , the legislative framework for occupational advancement was particularly threatened by the advent of the capitalist labor market and the first attempts at rationalization of factory work.

Excerpted from the Abstract to Tremblay, Robert. "Retour Sur Les Origines Du Mouvement Ouvrier Québécois: Profil Et Aspirations Des Militants Syndicaux Et Démocrates Durant Les Années 1830. (French)." Labour / Le Travail 72.(2013): 11-36. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.

Straight translations have issues of clarity; more importantly, however, learners do not develop language skills when they use a translation program. ESL instructors recommend methods for students to practice to think in English as they write in order to avoid relying on translation. Most importantly, students should use their English skills in every part of the writing process from planning to drafting. ESL instructors see straight translations often. When they come across a text that is clearly a straight translation, they advise students to start fresh using these exercises.

  1. Refresh your listening skills: For students who feel particularly unsure about writing in English, it can help to refresh listening skills first, as the skills of listening, speaking, writing, and reading are mutually supportive. Watching television or listening to the radio or a podcast in English will help the writer start thinking in English in a relaxed context.
  2. Speak your way into writing: The writer can find a friend (or better yet, a Hume tutor!) who does not share a native language to verbally articulate his/ her paper ideas. The writer can then talk through the flow of the argument to begin conceptualizing the essay organization.
  3. Create a written plan: It helps to start with low-stakes writing and it is also important to use English in the whole writing process from planning to product. Encourage students to brainstorm in English using pre-writing strategies such as freewriting, listing, mapping, etc. The student can then follow this more informal brainstorm with a written outline. Many language learners find that devising a full, detailed outline in English before drafting helps make the drafting process seem less intimidating.
  4. Repeat these steps: After starting the drafting process, it can help to repeat some of these steps in order to reenergize, or when beginning a new writing session.