As a foreign English learner, , I constantly make grammatical and structural errors when writing in English even though I started learning English at a very early age and have a relatively better speaking and listening ability among my peers. In fact, many Asians, Mandarin users like me in particular, encounter such problem a lot when writing in the English language. As a consequence, I want to find out the main reason that causes me to write in English with the inverse (Chinese) structure all the time. In other words, I want to know why I constantly “think” in my own language and translate it into English instead of directly “think and write” in English simultaneously. That is, as stated in the title, to avoid literal/verbal translation from my native language when writing in English.
In the first part of this essay, discussion will to focus on illustrating the core concepts of how humans form and convert grammatical structures into English. In the second part, a brief research conducted by myself will be used in support of the main question of this essay, which is the methodology to resolve writing difficulties for foreigner English speakers. Last but not least, an overall analysis in regard of the topic can be found in the final paragraph. The objective of this essay is to observe the influence between a Mandarin user’s native language (mother tongue) and the English language in terms of logical thinking process and psycholinguistic perspectives as well as avoiding literal or verbal translation from my the language.
This is an interesting however less discussed topic in terms of English learning method. I sincerely hope English learners, particularly foreign learners, can more or less understand the existing problems that can likely bother us, also, “can generate some interesting data to show the need to explicitly stimulate bicognitive and bicultural development in Chinese EFL learners”(Gonzalez, Virginia, Chen Chia-Yin, and Claudia Sanchez 627-52). The thinking process
We can discover a nearly inevitable process, regardless of its use, before writing a formal essay. That is, in fact, the process of sketching a rough idea (abstract) of what specific concepts we are going to talk about or what type of audience we want to persuade. For instance, suppose our topic is “My Family”. Undoubtedly, the first thing that comes into our mind is a picture consists of mother, father, and children. This is inevitable as we tend to “picturize” abstract words into actual images that we have already acquired from our experience (database) in the past. Later on, after these approximate frames are set up, a complicated process will start interpreting the picture into the language we are familiar with. To simply put, the input (given topic) needs to be processed in order to obtain (write down) the output.
Understanding the process, we can further apply the idea to foreign languages. Take myself as an example. Chinese is my native language whereas English is my second (foreign) language. Based on the thinking process demonstrated earlier, the process for me to convert “English topic” into “English sentences” is to first convert “English topic” to “Chinese topic”(since there is no such database known as “English” in the past), and then picturize “Chinese topic” into “Chinese sentences”, and finally translate those sentences into English. What a tough work it is! Yes, indeed, as a foreign language learner, especially a beginner, this is actually the fastest way to deliver message. However, after such a long process, we experience another problem—the translation is still in “Chinese” linguistic structure! For this reason, our brain starts modifying the structure, again, based on our “database”. (I will further explain the importance of “database” in a while) The modification process
So the modification process starts. Our brain starts searching for the most native way of expressing the idea in English. Yet, if no such word or structure was learned in the past, it is very likely that we would simply output the most similar or the most “literal” translation of the sentence. In this case, many common grammatical and improper structures can be easily observed, such as saying “What can I make?” instead of “What can I do?”(make and do both have the same meaning in Chinese) Of course, people can still understand what the writer tries to indicate, but on the other hand it can sometimes cause great misunderstanding between the author and the audience. Research
This survey is conducted on the basis of 57 effective samples, representing participants from more than three different education levels and 3 Mandarin-speaking countries. Questions 1 through 5 are general information used to analyze the background of participants. Questions starting from question 6 are divided into two contrary tracks. Track A is designed to investigate those who had encountered literal/verbal translation difficulties whereas track B is for those who seldom have difficulties writing what they intend to illustrate.
In this research, a few phenomena can be discovered. According to the responses of question 6, apparently over 70% of the participants have had a hard time translating what they really wanted to express into English. As for question <A-1>, 62% think such writing difficulty is mainly due to the lack of vocabulary while in question <A-2>, interestingly, more and more people tend to utilize resources through internet. From here, we can see the importance of technology in terms of learning and gathering information. On the other hand, however, Track B shows that those who seldom or never have literal/verbal translation problems believe reading is also important and that looking up dictionary helps them avoid literal/verbal translation problems. Some suggestions are listed in question<B-1> and <B-3> which include extensive reading and writing, have peer editor to review his/her essay, and even “fall in love with the language.”
Courtney from Study Moose
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