I've a general question about understanding and memorizing English words and phrases. Sometimes when I read a sentence or phrase with complex verb tenses (like continuous perfect forms) I can't understand and get sense immediately, I should do some mapping/translating to my own native language. So my question is :

Translating/mapping English words, specially verb tenses, to my native language, Is it a good practice or not?

I'm not sure but I've read a couple of days ago in somewhere in the Internet that says doing so could leads to worse performance on learning English.

What factual information indicates whether mapping English tenses to the tenses in my native language will help or harm my learning of English tenses?

  • Not in a long run. Simply because there are two languages involved. || You know, this would make a perfect question of the newly proposed site: "language learning". Unfortunately, yo won't get answers soon in that case.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 19:26
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    There's a reason that language immersion programs are so popular... they don't ever compare the language you know to the one you're learning.
    – Catija
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 23:31
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is largely opinion based. This is already seen by the differing answers here. This question does not even come close to having a definitive answer, It is the prototypical forum-type question. Speaking of forums, here is one: How to learn any language
    – user6951
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 2:23
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    @δοῦλος I think that if there was ever an on-topic question on ELL, this is it. It does go more toward "discussion question" than most, and current research probably can't establish one final answer definitively, but this is an extremely good question for an EFL learner to ask and get some good information on. (And who knows, maybe the research does answer it definitively. I'd like to know!)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 3:15
  • I wonder how you will translate an English text into your mother tongue if the English words and tenses are not connected with words and tenses of your mother tongue. I wouldn't give much attention to theories about language learning on the Internet. Have the courage to find your own way.
    – rogermue
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 18:22

4 Answers 4


Translations are almost always approximations.

Languages have contained within them all of the many subtleties that differentiate one culture from another. Languages not only differ in their sounds and word order. The people of every culture have many of their very own subconscious assumptions about how the world is ordered. This order is encoded in the language. That's why learning through immersion and use is so important, because you are in effect learning the cultural programming as you learn the language.

Translating will use neurological processes that are not conducive to tuning in to this phonetic and cultural programming. I could go into detail about this. If you're interested I'll comment below. The short answer: don't do it or you'll hit a glass ceiling later on.

How do I know this? I am a language immersion coach in São Paulo.


Being a visual learner I would say NO. Because english verb tenses generally have the same root word it would seem more practical to learn the root words and how tenses are applied to them. For example:

Root word Walk Past=walked Current=walking Future=walk (future tense preceded by the word will)

Rather than learning the mapping of the word learn the root word. For example ran is very different from its root run.

If you have an example I could maybe provide more detail.


What troubles you has been under study for quite some time. In fact, linguists prefer to study about it in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research.

This is a phenomena called language transfer. Well-phrased and descriptive definitions clearly state this as:

refers to speakers or writers applying knowledge from one language to another language. -Still wikipedia

Imagine me! I'm a Persian (not really, but I'm very fluent in it). So I can have transfer. But it's either one of these two types:

  • Pot calling the kettle black.: This idiom is commonly used in both languages. If I want to comprehend the one in L2 (i.e.: The language I'm learning, in this case English), I can make use of the full understanding I have from the Persian equivalent. This is known to be positive transfer.
  • Tenses ambiguity: For a Persian speaker (or any who opt Persian to be their L1) understanding present perfect could be troublesome in some cases, when they try to exactly "migrate" their understanding of Persian to English. So there's no candy. This is referred to as negative transfer, which is very common if you try to do L1 to L2 in an advanced level.

You might want to argue that "I'm no Persian!". The point is, this happens at every language that is different from pure English. This even happens to be instinctive in some cases.

So the short answer is now at hand: No. Mapping from your own native language to English isn't such a good idea, although if it may seem a boost in a start for learning English. (It is a boost, but it isn't recommended, as habits hardly fade away and as I mentioned in my comment and concluded, in the general process of language learning, it's known to be harmful.)

Should you want to do more studying, this article is a good choice, I'd say. Also, it wouldn't hurt to take a look at this.


I'm going to beg to differ slightly with the other answers. Yes, you can map words from English into your own language. As a matter of fact, for very basic English and very simple communication this is a good way to start.

BUT. There's a price. No language maps perfectly into another, and English probably less than some. English is a mongrel language, full of exceptions and ambiguities which can only be resolved by context. As long as you try to speak English as a "mapped" version of your own language you will never learn to speak it well.

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