Translator Do’s and Don’ts for Spanish Fluency

By Eric M.

Title_ How to Study Efficiently for Hours On End (With the Help of a Tomato) (3)Day One of sixth grade: my first ever Spanish class. After learning a few different ways to say “hello” and “goodbye,” we were given our homework: use our newfound knowledge to fill in the blank speech bubbles in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Determined to wow my teacher, I hatched a plan to stand out from the crowd. I rushed home, opened up Google Translate, and frantically typed in, “I still can’t kick that football!” I knew I would make quite the impression.

And make quite the impression I did. The next day, my teacher smiled as she walked through the room, checking off each “hola” and “adiós” on my classmates’ homework. When she reached my desk, she stopped cold. I cannot remember exactly what my paper said, but my teacher’s look told me I had subjected the Spanish language to a grisly mutilation.

Online translators and dictionaries have come a long way since I was in a middle school, but they still cut both ways when it comes to language learning. These tips can help you make the most of these tools while avoiding some common pitfalls.

DON’T look up every new word in a reading.

This might seem strange at first, but you don’t need to know every word in a passage to read with fluency. Think about it: does being fluent in English mean that you know every word in the language?

Rather than helping you, looking up every word in a reading slows you down and limits your Spanish progress, overwhelming you with a mountain of new vocabulary you can’t possibly remember.

DO look up key words and use context clues for the rest.

If there’s a new word that appears repeatedly in a reading and prevents you from understanding a passage, chances are it’s a key word and you should look it up in the dictionary. The same goes for words in important places, like the title of a poem or a section heading in a newspaper article.

When looking up words, I recommend detailed online dictionaries such as or In addition to definitions, these sites will provide you with grammatical information, usage tips, and numerous example sentences to help you master the new vocabulary.

Regardless of your level of Spanish, chances are there will be quite a few unknown words that don’t fit into the “key words” category. Instead of looking them all up, bring in your Language Arts skills and use context clues to figure out the overall meaning of a particular sentence or paragraph.

DON’T use a translator for whole phrases, sentences, or paragraphs when writing.

Besides the fact that online translators can’t produce long passages accurately, using them to translate large chunks of your work doesn’t let you practice your Spanish. You may not be able to say everything you want right now, but relying on translators for new grammar you haven’t learned yet won’t help you reach your goal.

DO use the language you already know in creative ways.

One of the best ways to improve your Spanish is through circumlocution: using the language you already have to paraphrase something you don’t know how to say yet.

For example, you might not have learned how to say something like “it’s important that we recycle,” which requires the present subjunctive (“es importante que reciclemos”). Rather than relying on a translator, you can express the same sentiment with a simpler construction you already know, like “it’s important to recycle” (“es importante reciclar”).

This strategy helps you think creatively and prepares you for real-world situations. After all, it’s hard to converse with a native Spanish speaker if you stop to pull out your translator every time you don’t know a word.

Ultimately, translators should be used to complement your Spanish knowledge, not to replace it. Don’t be afraid to use a translator; do be afraid of using one too often!

There’s a good reason Spanish is by far the most-taught second language in America: it’s by far the most useful. Whether it’s for school, business, travel, or simply for everyday life, Spanish rewards anyone willing to put in the effort to learn it.  And with the right teacher, learning it can be a breeze!  That’s where Cambridge Coaching comes in. We offer customized private Spanish tutoring at all levels:

  • Beginners: introduction to grammar, speaking, and verb conjugation 
  • Intermediate: taking reading, writing, and speaking to the next level 
  • Advanced: exploring seminal texts and literary Spanish (Borges, García Márquez, Cervantes, and more!)

We have also worked with even more advanced students looking to prepare for standardized test, or to fine-tune oral skills through tutorials that emphasize usage, vocabulary, and the mastery of common idiom and even slang. 

Our Spanish tutors are exceptional teachers - they are PhD candidates and teaching fellows at NYU, Columbia University, and Harvard University, published authors, and language professionals. They can teach anyone Spanish: whether you’re planning a grand tour of the pintxo parlors of Bilbao or the mofongo joints of Spanish Harlem, tell us about your goals, and we’ll help you get there in no time.

Select the focus that is right for you to learn more about how we can help you improve your Spanish.

Contact us!

Want to learn more about learning Spanish? Check out some of our previous blog posts below!

21st Century Spanish-Language Films You Can Stream Right Now

The Language Tutor: Doubt Not the Dictionary

The Language Tutor: Everyday Immersion


academics MCAT study skills SAT medical school admissions expository writing English college admissions GRE GMAT LSAT MD/PhD admissions chemistry math physics ACT biology language learning writing strategy law school admissions graduate admissions MBA admissions creative writing homework help MD test anxiety AP exams interview prep summer activities history philosophy career advice academic advice premed ESL economics grammar personal statements study schedules admissions coaching law statistics & probability PSAT computer science organic chemistry psychology SSAT covid-19 CARS legal studies logic games USMLE calculus parents reading comprehension 1L Latin Spanish dental admissions DAT engineering excel political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches chinese research DO MBA coursework Social Advocacy case coaching classics genetics kinematics skills verbal reasoning ISEE academic integrity algebra business business skills careers geometry medical school mental health social sciences trigonometry 2L 3L Anki FlexMed Fourier Series Greek IB exams Italian MD/PhD programs STEM Sentence Correction Zoom amino acids analysis essay architecture art history artificial intelligence astrophysics athletics biochemistry capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chromatography climate change curriculum data science dental school diversity statement finance first generation student functions gap year harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science information sessions integrated reasoning international students investing investment banking mba meiosis mitosis music music theory neurology phrase structure rules plagiarism presentations pseudocode secondary applications sociology software software engineering teaching tech industry transfer typology virtual interviews writing circles