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ESL forum > Ask for help > How to teach vocabulary and make student not translate everything?    

How to teach vocabulary and make student not translate everything?

United States

How to teach vocabulary and make student not translate everything?
Dear fellow teachers,

after a looong year free of teaching, I īm finally back :). And already, I īm in need of your precious advice! 

I have to prepare somebody for the TOEFL, since he wants to study either in Ireland or the US. However, his level is extremely low. He doesn īt understand any of the texts (his vocabulary-knowledge is basically non-existent), grammar, listening .. a lot of work. Well those things I know how to deal with (I hope), but I don īt really know about the vocabulary part. How should I prepare him in order to learn a lot of vocab? I got a book for the TOEFL vocabulary already, but I feel that this is not enough.

And another problem is, when trying to say or write something, he always tries to translate everything word by word. For example yesterday he was supposed to write a sentence and he wrote it down in French first and then searched for the words in his head word-by-word. 

Do you have any advice on how to do with him? It īs the first time after years that I prepare for the TOEFL and the first time at all to prepare somebody with this level, so I īm a little bit lost.
I teach him 5 hours per week one on one.

I would really appreciate any advice :)
Thanks so much in advance

Have a great weekend!

25 Oct 2014      

Peter Hardy

Most people try to translate, as this was (certainly in my schooling) THE way to teach languages. I focus on teaching my SS sentences. You may check out www.englishspeak.com where you get the 1000 most used sentences, and 1500 most used words, plus conversations. The site comes with sound tracks to listen to the sentences etcetera in English. Each sentence comes with a translation (you have a choice of several languages). To build vocabulary, I use MS Word īs thesaurus. I īm lucky having a Smart Board and a Computer Lab, but you can get a dictionary. My students have a hard copy with the translation of their own language (from Chinese and Korean to Arabic, Farsi and Bengali and so on) but in class I use the English-only version. They often have to change just one word, so they know two sentences, and with teaching synonyms they increase their knowledge rapidly. I also let them use Google translator, but mainly to teach them how ridiculous translations become. Copy a piece of English and let google translate it into their language, and soon they īll laugh their head off. After cementing the basics you go of course for the more specific jargon, so your TOEFL book doesn īt become obsolete. Hope this helps, but others may have better ideas. As long as it works for you and your student. Cheers, Peter

25 Oct 2014     


Students with a low level of English simply cannot prepare for difficult exams such as TOEFL or IELTS. They should first take a lot of lower level general courses to improve their general level of English and once they are intermediate TOEFL prep can begin.

Trying to teach TOEFL to an elementary student is not only a waste of time for both parties, it will also be extrememly frustrating for the teacher and very discouraging for the student.

25 Oct 2014     


Basically, as silly as it may seem, teach by example. The more you explain with synonyms and stop translating, the less they will translate. And be persistent about it. It takes a bit of time and practice, but it does bring results. 
And set your goals realistically, adapting language to it. Talk to your student realistically. People seems to think getting a high-level certificate in English is easy because they can watch movies without subtitles. Give your student at least a can-do statements list to see the level he/she has to reach to be able to get some kind of a certificate, and show them all the skills - most of the things is related to writing, and this is their weak point.

25 Oct 2014     

United States

This site is easy to use. It provides definitions and example sentences on flashcards of the most common 200 words in the TOEFL exam, so would be a good place to start. 

25 Oct 2014     

United States

Thanks so much for taking your time and helping me with the issue and for all your advice!! Those are really great ideas and remarks that will help me come up with a strategy. Thanks so much :)

25 Oct 2014