Author: Deb Bullock | Published on 1 May 2023


Question: Can I teach new words without translating?

Answer: Yes. There are different ways.  

Although it is difficult to explain the meaning of words to low-level learners without using L1, it is possible.

1. Imagine you are teaching this text. Which words do you need to explain?


Brown bears

Brown bears live in North America. They live in mountains, meadows and river valleys. In winter they hibernate or sleep for many months. In winter their heartbeat slows. Female bears have their babies while they are hibernating.

You probably chose: bear, mountain, meadow, valley, hibernate, heartbeat and female.

Now decide how you would explain each word: 

  • a picture
  • an opposite word
  • a similar word
  • a definition
  • a gesture
  • an example

[use picture of a bear and a meadow to illustrate] 

There is no right answer to this question. But you might do this: 

  • bear = a picture
  • mountain = an example from your country, e.g. Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya
  • meadow = picture
  • valley = definition, e.g. the land between 2 mountains or an example from your country, e.g. the Great Rift Valley
  • hibernate = a similar word. In the text it says ‘or sleep’, e.g. sleep for a long time.
  • heartbeat = a gesture, e.g. learners put their hand on their chest and feel it
  • female = a similar word, e.g. girl/woman or opposite word, e.g. opposite of boy/man 


Can you think of more ways to explain new words? Which ways will you try?