Today, I would like to write a post about a conundrum I have. That is, is it possible to learn a language without looking up any words at all? Is it better to just stay in the target language? Would you learn better that way?
In today's world, everybody wants the answer NOW. "What does it mean? Tell me now!" Let's look at what happens when you get the answer right away. You look up the L2 word and get an L1 word. The same L2 word shows up again and you've trained yourself to recall the corresponding L1 word. In your book you've got L2, in your mind you've got L1. In this manner you will not be able to think in L2 because you will concentrate more on that which is familiar to you, which is L1. This has two more side effects. When you see the L2 word, you cannot remember the L1 word. Why? Because previously you only thought about the L1 word. So now you still don't know what the L2 word means and you have to look it up again. The symptom: constantly looking up the same words over and over again. The other side effect is that you can't recall the L2 word. You remember looking up an L2 word that had the meaning of the L1 word, but you can't remember what that L2 word was. Therefor, you haven't learned it yet.
Based on my preceding examples, I question whether or not we are learning any faster by using translations. In the beginning, the translation method feels faster. We feel like we are understanding and we feel like we are learning. Sure enough, it slowly starts to sink in and we can recall some of what we thought we had learned. Through some hard work and solid effort, we force ourselves to be able to use some of the language. Unfortunately however, going through the intermediate and advanced stages is just as much work and just as painfully slow as the beginner stages.
Next, I look at a hypothetical example of a learner who doesn't translate. In the beginning, he doesn't feel like he is learning anything at all (and this is where most people would give up and quit.) He hears the language and reads the language but he has absolutely no idea of what is going on. The advantage, however, is that he can concentrate on the sound of the language. With audio and transcribed text, he can match the sound to the writing system. He learns to read the language before he even understands a word of it. He attains a perfect ear for the language. Next he moves on to video, something like dramas or maybe just preschool shows. He hears every word that is spoken. He catches on quickly to what is going on and suddenly words have meanings and things are making sense. The language is alive and exciting! His attention is drawn to every little detail and he doesn't miss a beat because his brain is already tuned to the sounds of the language. His learning explodes and he is moving through the stages of progression faster than a rocket to the moon. And since he has never used L1, at this point he has nothing to slow him down. When he begins speaking, at first he is a little tongue tied because he knows what he wants to say but his mouth cannot keep up with his brain. But shortly thereafter, he is speaking without a hindrance. He does not slow down or stop to think about how to say something. He uses what he knows and it comes to him quickly and naturally.
So what do you think? Would it work? Does it work? I will have to give it a try. It will be fun.