Ten Strategies to Use INSTEAD of Translation

“I took four years of (fill in the blank) and can’t speak a word of it!”  is the fruit of grammar, translation-based instruction.  I teach grammar and believe it is important but I know language is learned primarily through comprehensible input and repetition in context.  By CI, I mean messages that can be understood because of context, visuals, actions or cues.  But that subject is for another blog.  This blog is about strategies to use instead of translation.

It’s about why we shouldn’t use translation (except for some grammar explanations) and the strategies that DO lead our students to proficiency.

Ten Strategies to Use Instead of Translation


In the heirarchy of language learning, translation is the last skill to acquire and the most difficult.  In fact, many people can be fluent in a language but have difficulty translating or interpreting.  I speak three languages fluently and can think well in one language at a time.  However, interpreting or translating requires more concentrated brain juice than I like to expend.  Yet, we are asking our students to translate when they are not yet able to comprehend spoken language.

  • STEP ONE: The first ability one acquires when exposed to a language is comprehension.  I understand some of what you are saying.
  • STEP TWO:  I can say a few words.
  • STEP THREE:  I can say some sentences that you MIGHT UNDERSTAND.

Strategies to Use Instead of Translations: Spanish Por y Para PowerPoint

  • STEP FOUR:  I can say sentences and paragraphs that you do understand, engage in conversations, narrate.


  • STEP FIVE:  I can give an opinion and support it.  I begin to understand and use academic language.


  • STEP SIX:  MAYBE, if I’m gifted and have extensive training, I can translate and interpret.

  There are many activities that attain the goal of proficiency that teachers can use instead of translation (which usually does NOT lead to proficiency).  Here are a few of my go-tos.

     1.  ¿LÓGICO O NO?

Instead of this prompt, “Traduzcan las frases del inglés al español”, write this prompt:  “Cambien las frases ridículas a frases lógicas”, or, “Si la frase es lógica, escriban, “lógica”.  Si no es lógica, escriban una frase lógica”.  This gives students CORRECT language in context, more comprehensible input and helps them think in the target language.

Spanish Reflexive Verbs PowerPoint and Interactive Notebook Activities


It rains visuals in my classroom. Instead of telling students to translate, “He’s sleeping”,  I put up a visual of someone sleeping when teaching the progressive tense.

Spanish Progressive Tenses or Gerund PowerPoint and Interactive Notebook Activities

Teaching the comparisons

Los comparativos y superlativo PowerPoint and Printables

Don’t forget to use apps to add zip to your visuals and keep your students interested, as I did in this 15 second video for the lesson on, “tener”.  I used the VIMO app to add comical text and images.


3.  COMPLETEN LAS FRASES:  CI (Comprehensible Input) should be included in most activities anyway.  Students cannot have enough language in context.

 Spanish GO Verbs PowerPoint and Interactive Notebook Activity
4.  CONTESTEN LAS PREGUNTAS:  This strategy is not new.  Its benefit is that it is authentic communication.   Progressive Tense:  What are you doing right now?  Preterite:  What did you do last weekend?  Conditional:  What would you buy with a million dollars?  Even, better, add visuals.
Spanish Places Los lugares PowerPoint & Interactive Notebook Activity
For teaching, “SER” and, “ESTAR”
Spanish Ser Estar PowerPoint, Printables and Interactive Notebook Activity
Spanish House and Chores PowerPoint and Interactive Notebook Activites
Spanish House and Chores PowerPoint and Interactive Notebook Activites
6.  HAZ UN CÍRCULO:  More CI!  Write a short exerpt using many vocabulary words or examples of a grammar concept you are teaching and have students circle sentences that make no sense.  They are exposed to more repetition of the concepts while finding the misfits.  Language is now communication and messages, not a drill they have to do for their Spanish class.
Strategies to use instead of translation

7.  PANCHO CAMANCHO: Instead of asking students to translate, “I have to do  my homework but I feel like sleeping”, play, “Pancho Camacho” with them.  Half the class writes, “Tengo que…” and an infinitive and the other half writes, “Pero tengo ganas de + infinitive” on their white boards.  Model how to play it:  Raise your board and say, “Tengo que trabajar pero tengo ganas de…” and look around the room for a white board that says, “Tengo ganas de…”.  Finish your sentence.  “Tengo que trabajar pero tengo ganas de dormir”.  The person whose board says, “Tengo ganas de dormir,” says, “Tengo ganas de dormir pero….” and finishes their sentence with a sentence about what they have to do.  Ring the bell after a prescribed time (about a minute).  Whoever is talking when you ring the bell is OUT!  Play until students are bored with it and give prizes to the winners. Students soon realize they must speak quickly to stay in the game and after much repetition, they definitely know the meaning of those expressions without the use of translation.

8.  GRAB PAIRED GAME:  Instead of having students write the English translation of nouns, (¡Qué horror!) have them sit in pairs and spread the pictures of the objects on their desks.  Say complete sentences with the vocabulary embedded. The first student to grab the correct object wins.  Students LOVE this game and while they are learning, they are hearing language in context.  I show the answers on a slide so students know which drawing is the correct one.

Spanish House and Chores Speaking & Listening Paired Activities

9. COMMAND EACH OTHER:  For the commands and prepositions, instead of asking students, “¿Qué quiere decir, ‘The apple is behind the banana,’” have students command each other.  Grade the commander on his/her use of the commands and prepositions and grade the one who obeys on his/her obedience.  Of course, the non-presenters must have an observer sheet to fill out (which will be graded) as they watch so they are not bored and off-task.

10.  PUT THE EVENTS IN ORDER:  For the reflexive verbs, instead of having students translate,  “She wakes up at 6:00” (lucky girl), have them put a list of events in a logical order.  It is more authentic (In what order do you get ready in the morning?) and students navigate meaning while they are arranging the order of the sentences.  (Again, exposure to CI WHILE they practice.)  Repetition, repetition!

I LIED!  I included 12 strategies. (The number 12 didn’t fit into my pin composition.  Design flaw.)

11. DICE GAME:  Instead of saying, “¿Cómo se dice, “I put my book on the desk,”, students play the dice game in pairs.  Way more fun and uses CI.  And, of course, use visuals to aid in comprehension.

Spanish Go Verbs Paired Activity Dice Game

Strategies to Use Instead of Translations: Go Verbs Dice Game

12:  Lastly, TPR Story Telling is the BEST comprehensible input, in my humble opinion and the many activities that accompany the stories lead to proficiency (finish the sentences, finish the story, write your own story using the vocabulary, cloze stories, etc)

Spanish Subjunctive TPR Story PowerPoint

Why would anyone use translation for simple nouns unless they 1) didn’t know better (That’s not you), b) didn’t have time to create visuals (That may be you.) or 3)  didn’t know there was an abundance of resources that cost practically nothing that SOMEONE ELSE spent months or even years to create on teacherspayteachers.com.


Yes, I DO use translation, when teaching the direct and indirect object pronouns and the imperfect tense.  Those concepts are the only two which I have been unable to explain with comprehensible input alone.  Also, I find it necessary to spend two days teaching my students English grammar when teaching the object pronouns before going back to teaching in the target language.  If they don’t understand the objects in English, they will struggle in Spanish.  English is also useful when comparing idiomatic expressions and differences in L1 and the target language.

I would love to have more activities and strategies to use instead of translation.  Would you consider sharing your ideas?  You may see them in my next Newsletter.  Please leave your name so that I may give you credit.



















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