Tips on Learning English

Rule No. 1 of Successfully Learning English

Do you know the most important rule of learning English? It’s simple: Learn new words based on the English Definition and NOT based on the Translation. In today’s blog post, I’m going to show you exactly what I mean by that.

Please note: This blog post is word for word taken from the first chapter of my new book called “How to Learn English with The Big Bang Theory,” which will be published soon.

Do not translate into
your native language:

Hello there, and welcome to “How to Learn English with The Big Bang Theory.” My name is Martin, and I come from Austria, a small country in the center of Europe.

So you see, my native language is NOT English. Instead, my native language happens to be German. Therefore, I am an English learner just like you. I might only have a bit of a head start on you.

But the thing is – and you might perfectly relate to this – a few years ago, it would never have entered my mind that I could publish a book written in English by myself, as I didn’t consider myself fluent in the language by any means. I didn’t consider myself fluent despite having had years and years of English lessons in school – and then again at university (studying business administration).

Yet, I couldn’t speak or write in English confidently. The reason for it was quite simple: I made every learning mistake possible.

By far, my biggest mistake was that I always learned new vocabulary based on looking up the German translation for each word. Then I would learn this pair of words, i.e., the new English word and the corresponding German translation, by heart till I felt I had it saved in my memory.

Admittedly, this may be a validthough not the most effective – strategy to increase your passive vocabulary. And by passive vocabulary, I mean the words you recognize when someone else uses them in a conversation or written form.

But the biggest problem with this strategy is that you will never improve your active vocabulary. That means you will never be able to use the words you have learned in real conversations.

At least, you will sound awkward as you will always have to think in your native language first before trying to translate it into English. And as you already know, that costs a lot of time. Time you do not have when you want to sound naturally. Thus, you have to think in the language you are using in order to communicate appropriately and fluently!

IMPORTANT FACT: The only way to learn English successfully is to STOP translating from your native language into English – and vice versa! Otherwise, you will never become fluent in English.


native language = the first language that someone learns

therefore = because of that

head start = an advantage that someone has over other people in something

to relate to something = to understand a situation because you have experienced a similar situation

by any means = in any way possible; at all

despite = without being influenced by

business administration = the study of the principles of running a business

i.e. = id est (= Latin for “that is”)

corresponding = connected with

to learn something by heart = learned in such a way that you can repeat it from memory

admittedly = used when you are agreeing that something is true

valid = based on truth or reason

though = but

to sound awkward = to sound odd or unnatural

thus = because of that

Learn the definition
of the words instead:

Luckily, I finally realized this “language learning secret” about two years or so ago. And so I instantly stopped translating new English words into German whenever I came up with a new word that I didn’t know. Instead, I began to look up the definition of each piece of new vocabulary in a good English-only Dictionary. (By definition, I mean the explanation of a complicated word given in easier English words.)

This strategy gave me at least one significant advantage: I got used to paraphrasing words if I couldn’t come up with a specific word in conversation. In other words, I made it a habit to describe something in easy English every time I couldn’t come up with a more sophisticated word.

IMPORTANT FACT: If you constantly learn new pieces of English vocabulary by translating them into your native language, then you will get stuck in conversations very quickly as you are not used to paraphrasing something in easier English words.

Or think of it the other way around: Take a particular paragraph from this or any other English book and try translating it into your native language. By doing so, you will realize one important thing: You wouldn’t be able to do it fluently and with ease. And there are two significant reasons:

  1. There will likely be a different word order between English and your native language. In English, the verb is usually put quite early in sentences. In other languages like German, the verb is often put relatively late in sentences. That’s why simultaneous translation is so hard.
  2. There isn’t always an exact translation for every English word. Some English words possess a specific quality that no corresponding word in your native language has. (And the opposite would also be true, of course.)

So you see, trying to translate an English text is not that easy, even though it’s your native language you are translating into. So, why should it be easy the other way around? Why should you ever be able to easily translate something into English while you already have a hard time translating something into your native language? It just makes no sense.

Luckily, there is a simple cure: STOP translating English words into your native language! Or you will never become fluent in English. That’s a fact.


appropriately = in a way that is suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion

vice versa [vaɪ.səˈvɝːsə] = used to say that what you have just said is also true in the opposite order

instantly = immediately

to paraphrase = to state something written or spoken in different words, especially in a shorter and simpler form to make the meaning clearer

specific = relating to one thing and not others; particular

sophisticated = complicated or made with great skill

significant = important or noticeable

simultaneous = happening or being done at exactly the same time

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By Martin

Martin is the main contributor to this website. He loves to watch funny English sitcoms and inspirational videos and to read English books of different genres. Now, he wants to share his experience with you by posting funny and meaningful English lessons based on the sitcoms, videos, and books he loves so much.

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