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Translating in Your Head is a Good Thing


Many language learners worry about translating in their heads.

And since many people agonize about it – experts rush to prescribe all kinds of methods to cure you from your translating-in-your-head disease.

I’m sure they have good intentions, but it’s a problem that doesn’t really exist.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate language learner, don’t sweat it:

It’s normal that you translate in your head. It will go away on its own with enough speaking practice and exposure.

And if it doesn’t, then that’s great as well:

Translating in Your Head is an Opportunity

Even with a lot of practice you still sometimes translate in your head.

Everything depends on the frequency of practice and exposure. It’s pretty similar to what happens with active and passive vocabulary:

I probably won’t have to translate in my head, things I say a lot. I practice them enough so they come easy to me.

But I do need those extra seconds to translate stuff I almost never use.

In any case, I’m always happy having to translate in my coconut.


Because it means I’ve just found a weakness I have to improve. Something I have to work on. (Which, of course, often I don’t.)

As an advanced learner, you can no longer fall back on your basic language course. You have to find other clues on what to work on. So if you have to translate something in your head, it’s a blessing:

You now have something new to work with.

Google Translate in Flesh and Blood

The first time I started practicing Spanish in the real world, was here in Costa Rica.

I was constantly translating in my head.

Man, I felt like a human version of Google Translate!

But…I didn’t worry about it.

I knew it was a normal phase of the learning process.

I was right:

Nowadays, I don’t often translate in my head anymore. And when it happens, it’s always with stuff I haven’t practiced enough.

So I appreciate the blind spot, and know I can use it to fix the weakness.

Moral of the Story

As you get more and more speaking practice, you will translate in your head less and less.


There isn’t a magic pill that makes you stop translating in your watermelon completely. (Actually, I bet there is, but it would knock you out.)

And you shouldn’t even want to.

You would lose an invaluable tool to improve your capabilities in your new language.

With that out-of-the-way, you now know it’s time to stop worrying about translating in your head.

Use that energy in your language learning activities, instead.

Starting now…






See you next week!


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