Word-for-word or free translation?

Apologize in advance for the cross-posting.

I am thinking about sharing my personal collections on Clozemaster.
I’ve just opened a new poll on Clozemaster subreddit to seek advice to improve the (soon-to-be) publicly shared collections.

I would be great if forum participants here join the poll on Reddit and/or give me candid opinions.

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I always prefer free translations that get to the “sense” of things. This is because translation is rarely, if ever a 1:1 correlation, and the meanings of words often have different connotations in other languages.

Take for example the Italian word “cattivo/a”. It can means evil (such as a super-villian); It can mean bad/disgusting; Or it can mean naughty - often applied to kids with an implication of badly brought-up but not “evil.” Which is “right”? All. None/Other. Take your pick.


Thank you for your input, @Dcarl1 !

I would like to hear more about your definition of get to the “sense” of things. Could you kindly take a look at the CASE 2 on the poll? Maybe you prefer “modest word-for-word translations” rather than “free translations”.

Case 2: passive form (ID-EN)

  • ID: Silakan {{dinikmati}} kuenya.
  • EN (free translation): Please help yourself to the cake. (= Tatoeba version)
  • EN (modest W4W): Please enjoy the cake if you like.
  • EN (extreme W4W): Please be enjoyed with the cake.

The cloze-word is written in a passive form in Indonesian. Native speakers intentionally choose a passive form when they are offering something politely. An active verb in an imperative sentence sounds too direct and even insisting even if “please” (“silakan”) is inserted.

The extreme version is the easiest one to fill in the cloze-word. But no English speaker says “please be enjoyed” with a passive verb.

The modest version uses the active form (“enjoy”), but adding “if you like” phrase may give a hint to Indonesian learners.

The free translation sourced from Tatoeba is very hard to guess the cloze-word. {{Dinikmati}} merely means “to be enjoyed”.


There was a heated debate on this matter on a sentence discussion page of the Duolingo Indonesian course when the SDs and forums were still publicly open (a.k.a. the old good time :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:). At the time, the pro-W4WT opinion gained more upvotes than the pro-FT. But I am not so sure the same preference can be applied to Clozemaster users, who are supposed to be more advanced than absolute beginners on Duolingo.

The poll on Reddit is ongoing. But I see so far that the result is so polarized.

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Thank you for the examples. I do not speak Indonesian, so I do not feel qualified to judge this example. However, I can extrapolate to an example in Italian which is similar, and give you my opinion on that.

Mi piace la torta = I like the cake.

However what this actually grammatically corresponds to in English is literally: “To me pleases the cake” or “The cake is pleasing to me.”

Is it useful for English speakers to understand this “inverted” construction? Yes. Is it a good teaching tool to investigate indirect object structure? Yes. Is it the correct translation? No – as no native speaker would ever state a preference this way. I would go further to speculate that such a “direct” word-for-word translation actually retards natural learning of the correct structure. In translation it is less important what “this would be” in your language and more important to get the sense of it.

So - in Italian it’s useful simply to learn “piacere” is used to mean “it’s a pleasure to meet you” and less useful to know it means “joy/pleasure.”

So…long way around of saying I suppose that (assuming I knew Indonesian) I would want to see the first (free) translation. “Help yourself” implies optionality and is not an order to eat cake.


Just out of interest, I have always avoided word-for-word translation as it can be extremely misguiding. With Italian I’ve always tried to “think” Italian before using my translator or dictionary and definitely avoid falling into the trap of “But we wouldn’t say that in English”. Meanings can definitely differ with mood.


I think that is not a question you can answer by an internet poll.
The balance between conveying the sense, conveying the mood and conveying the particulars of the original language is simply the art of good translation.

That said, for the special use here in clozemaster, where you basically learn by “translating” a whole sentence by adding a single word, a free translation in the target language is okay for me.
I want to learn what to say and what to expect to hear in a given situation.

I am not surprised that Duollingo users opted for the the W4WT. Duolingo never solved the problem of dealing of ambiguities and translation alternatives. There is “correct” and “Duolingo-correct” and your chance of guessing Duolingo-right are better if it is at least W4WT. Thankfully :+1: that’s not a big issue here.


I generally prefer the free translation. However, for difficult or possibly misleading phrases (Greek has exactly the same ‘Cake is pleasing to me’ expression as Italian) I make notes, and may add a W4W translation as a reminder to myself. I actually make extensive use of the ‘notes’ function on Clozemaster, adding stuff like ‘Idiom confirmed via Glosbe’, or ‘this verb usually found in more formal contexts’, etc.


The free translation sourced from Tatoeba is very hard to guess the cloze-word.

That’s fine. You’ll have no idea what to do the first time, and most likely won’t remember what to do the second time. But by the third time, you’ll start realizing you shouldn’t use a direct translation. Instead, you’re learning to take the meaning of the entire sentence in your head, then translate that entire sentence in a way appropriate to the new language. Which is the goal of language learning, right?

I tend to do CM requiring me to type the answer rather than select one of the options. But if I’m clueless - either because I don’t know the particular word or because I don’t know the appropriate way to translate the entire sentence - then I click the button to see the 4 options. If dinikmati were offered as one of four options, along with Indonesian translations of “dog”, “sadly” and “run!” even an early learner would probably be able to figure out the right guess. In that case, you get the Cloze, but you rightly get only half as many points as solving the Cloze without the hints.