Learn Spanish Faster by Translating Native Sentences

December 27, 2016
<p>This past Thursday I posted an <a href="https://deliberatespanish.com/blog/gap-008">English-to-Spanish translation challenge</a> made up of native sentences. Here is an excerpt:</p><div class="translation translation--highlight-english"><p><span class="en">I got the photography bug a few months ago, when my friend Carmen (who is a real photographer) asked me to hold her camera for a second while she rummaged through her bag trying to find one of her telephoto lenses.</span></p></div><p><strong>Native sentences</strong> are typically longer than 20 words, they combine multiple ideas, and they're full of idiomatic expressions and other descriptive words.</p><p><strong>Classroom sentences</strong> on the other hand, are short, simple and unconnected:</p><div class="translation translation--highlight-english"><p><span class="en">I like photography. Carmen is a professional photographer. I hold her camera. She looks for something in her bag.</span></p></div><p>One of the reasons you might be stuck in intermediate purgatory is that you're spending <strong>too much time working with classroom sentences</strong> instead of focusing all your energy on <strong>mastering native sentences</strong>.</p><p>When you're a total beginner it makes sense to work with simplified sentences because they make it easier to grasp the core concepts of the language, but once you reach an intermediate level, you should be spending the lion's share of your time <strong>playing at the advanced level</strong>. It's the only way to become really fluent.</p><p>This article is a guide for how you might go about translating a native sentence like the one above. I hope it motivates to take on <a href="https://deliberatespanish.com/blog/gap-008">last week's challenge</a> in full force.</p><hr /><!--more--><p>We'll start by breaking down the sentence into easily digestible pieces, identifying the problematic areas, and working through them one by one.</p><p>Let's assume that these six things are the ones that give you trouble:</p><div class="translation translation--highlight-english"><p><span class="en"><span class="correct">I got the photography bug<span class="index index--inline"></span></span> a few months ago.</span></p><p><span class="en">My friend Carmen (<span class="correct">who<span class="index index--inline"></span></span> is <span class="correct">a real photographer<span class="index index--inline"></span></span>).</span></p><p><span class="en">It happened when she asked me <span class="correct">to hold<span class="index index--inline"></span></span> her camera for a second.</span></p><p><span class="en">She <span class="correct">rummaged through<span class="index index--inline"></span></span> her bag trying to find one of her <span class="correct">telephoto lenses.<span class="index index--inline"></span></span></span></p></div><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> An idiomatic expression like <em>the photography bug</em> can probably be used for other things besides photography, so let's only look up "bug". We can use the excellent <a href="https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-spanish/bug">Collins English-to-Spanish dictionary</a>.</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feb0422fa98cb027230a_collins-bug.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-890" /></p><p>That last one seems to be what we were looking for. By looking at the pronouns and the prepositions, we can generalize it to <span class="sp">"<strong>picarle</strong> a alguien <strong>el gusanillo de</strong> algo"</span>. <a href="https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/picar-el-gusanillo.2043482/">Googling a bit more</a> shows that <span class="sp">picar</span>, <span class="sp">entrar</span> and <span class="sp">venir</span> are valid options:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Me <strong>picó</strong> el gusanillo de la fotografía…</span></p><p><span class="sp">Me <strong>entró</strong> el gusanillo de la fotografía…</span></p><p><span class="sp">Me <strong>vino</strong> el gusanillo de la fotografía…</span></p></div><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> The relative pronoun <em>who</em> can be confusing because sometimes it's translated as <span class="sp">que</span> and other times as <span class="sp">quien</span>. Explaining that difference deserves its own post, but for sentence structures like that we can probably rely on Google Translate:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0fea2cec42c7c5c30a4e0_google-translate-who-is.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-888" /></p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0fea1883524352ec8adc7_google-answer-who-is.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-887" /></p><p>Google Translate is like that annoying kid in class who always <em>thinks</em> he knows the answer but gets it wrong half of the time. Never take anything you see here for granted. In fact, your Spanish Spider Sense should be tingling for two reasons:</p><ul><li><span class="sp">gusanillo</span> is not an <span class="en">error</span> (unless you assume that <span class="sp">gusano</span> = <span class="en">worm</span> = <span class="en">bug</span> = <span class="en">error</span>)</li><li>Carmen is a woman, so it should be <span class="sp"><strong>una amiga</strong></span> and <span class="sp"><strong>una verdadera fotógrafa</strong></span>. </li></ul><p>Everything else seems to be right, but is it really <span class="sp">"<strong>que</strong> es una verdadera fotógrafa"</span> or <span class="sp">"<strong>quien</strong> es una verdadera fotógrafa"</span>?</p><p>Let's see if we can find that exact usage somewhere. Since it's a specific combination of words, we can get more relevant results by googling them using "double quotes". Furthermore, instead of relying on plain Google, we can use <a href="https://books.google.com/">Google Books</a> to find a more reliable source.</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feb58fecb180fcf46624_mi-amigo-que.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-895" /></p><p>Unfortunately, not all books in Google Books are reliable sources (the second book in this image is full of mistakes) so it's best to stick with famous authors like Elvira Lindo (by the way, she writes awesome <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Manolito-Gafotas-Spanish-Elvira-Lindo/dp/8420458546/ref=la_B001JSCI2U_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482832812&sr=1-3">children's novels</a> that I wholeheartedly recommend for native Spanish reading practice).</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feb31f4fb45298f9a226_mi-amigo-quien.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-894" /></p><p>That's 10,500 results for <span class="sp">"<a href="https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=%22mi+amigo+que+es%22">mi amigo <strong>que</strong> es</a>"</span> and only 252 for <span class="sp">"<a href="https://www.google.es/search?tbm=bks&q=%22mi+amigo+quien+es%22">mi amigo <strong>quien</strong> es</a>"</span>. If you look closely, you'll realize that most of the <span class="sp">quien</span> results are actually for <span class="sp">quién</span> <span class="sp">(…mi amigo. —¿Quién es…?)</span>, so <span class="sp"><strong>que</strong></span> wins.</p><p>You might have noticed I searched for <span class="sp">amigo</span> instead of <span class="sp">amiga</span>. I did this because I wasn't getting enough results with <span class="sp">amiga</span>. When this happens to you, consider generalizing the query by changing feminine to masculine, or plural to singular.</p><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> If you're not sure if "a real photographer" should be translated as <span class="sp">"una verdadera fotógrafa"</span>, you can also check <a href="https://context.reverso.net/translation/spanish-english/una+verdadera+fot%C3%B3grafa">Reverso Context</a> to find sentences that contain those words:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feb28d011ab09d5bb409_reverso-fotografo.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-891" /></p><p>That first example seems to be spot on: <span class="sp">Soy una fotógrafa, papa. Una verdadera fotógrafa.</span>. Reverso Context gets a lot of its sentences from user-contributed subtitles, so you'll often come across mistakes. If something looks weird to you, look it up somewhere else.</p><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> Let's see what the Collins brings up for <a href="https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-spanish/hold"><strong>hold</strong></a>:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feaef788d6ea675d670d_collins-hold-noun.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-885" /></p><p>That's pretty close, but we're actually <strong>looking for a verb, not a noun</strong>. If you scroll down a bit, you'll see this:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0fead8fecb148a6f4661d_collins-hold-verb.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-884" /></p><p>That's more like it. All of these would be valid options: <span class="sp">sujetar</span>, <span class="sp">tener</span>, <span class="sp">coger</span> (<span class="sp">agarrar</span> outside of Spain), <span class="sp">sostener</span>.</p><p>Okay, we found the right verb, but what tense should we use?</p><p>Let's google another "exact match", but this time we'll <a href="https://www.google.es/search?sclient=psy-ab&safe=off&site=&source=hp&btnG=Search&q=%22me+pidi%C3%B3+*+su%22">add a wildcard (*) for the second verb</a>:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feac712d3584bb440584_google-me-pidio-su.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-883" /></p><p>It seems like there are two valid options: <span class="sp">me pidió <strong>sujetar</strong></span> (infinitive) and <span class="sp">me pidió <strong>que sujetara</strong></span> (subjunctive). We're trying to <strong>get better at advanced Spanish</strong>, so let's go with the subjunctive. Also, since we're talking about her camera, we can get extra-native and add the indirect object pronoun:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">…me pidió que <strong>le</strong> sujetara su cámara…</span></p></div><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> Looking up "rummage around" in the Collins doesn't bring up anything. WordReference is usually pretty good with expressions, so let's <a href="https://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=rummage%20around">try it</a>:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0feaa60a615245da4922c_wr-rummage-around.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-882" /></p><p>The example sentence is almost exactly what we need: "<span class="sp">Rebusqué en mi bolso para encontrar un bolígrafo</span>" (notice the prepositions)</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Ella rebuscaba <strong>en</strong> su bolsa intentando encontrar…</span></p></div><p><span class="index index--annotation correct"></span> Technical terms like <em>telephoto lens</em> or anything worthy of a Wikipedia page, should be looked up in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephoto_lens">Wikipedia</a>. Once you're there, look for the <span class="sp">Español</span> link at the bottom of the left sidebar:</p><p><img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f4519ba9f481102acf2bea0/5fd0fea8097fd2b907e49af0_wiki-tele.png" alt="" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-881" /></p><p>We found our answer: <span class="sp"><strong>teleobjetivo</strong></span>.</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">…uno de sus teleobjetivos.</span></p></div><p>The final translation could look something like this:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Me picó el gusanillo de la fotografía hace unos meses, cuando mi amiga Carmen (que es una fotógrafa de verdad) me pidió que le sujetara la cámara un segundo mientras rebuscaba en su bolsa intentando encontrar uno de sus teleobjetivos.</span><br><span class="en">I got the photography bug a few months ago, when my friend Carmen (who is a real photographer) asked me to hold her camera for a second while she rummaged through her bag trying to find one of her telephoto lenses.</span></p></div><h3>Read it one more time before you submit</h3><p>Once you have a final draft, do yourself a favor and <strong>read the whole thing over one more time</strong>. You can improvise all you want when you're in a live conversation, but your Spanish practice sessions should be all about <strong>deliberate effort</strong>. If you <strong>give it your best attempt</strong>, you will remember native corrections better because your mind won't be able to cop out by saying "I would have caught that if I had paid more attention."</p><p>After you get native feedback (ask a friend or use <a href="https://lang-8.com/nacho">lang-8</a>), take the correct version and <strong>internalize it using <a href="https://deliberatespanish.com/blog/fix-mistakes">the scaffold technique</a></strong>.</p><h2>Spanish takeaways</h2><p><strong>Translating native sentences takes more time and energy</strong> than working with their classroom counterparts, but <strong>it helps you learn much faster</strong>.</p><p>By putting in the effort to look up words and unfamiliar expressions, you will become <strong>emotionally invested</strong>, which will make it <strong>easier to remember the answers</strong>.</p><p>It might seem counterintuitive, but the fastest way towards <strong>fluid live conversations</strong> goes through <strong>slow and deliberate practice sessions</strong>. Once you have those hours under your belt</p><hr /><p>Now I want to hear from you. <strong>What is your biggest struggle when you try to translate your thoughts into Spanish</strong>? Let me know in the comments.</p>