A student came to see me after school recently and wanted to know if I had any suggestions for helping her complete her Latin homework assignments -- translation assignments, specifically. She lamented that it was taking her over an hour to "do" her translations and then she still didn't understand what the Latin was saying.
I asked her to tell me exactly what she did and how she did it.
If she was given an assignment of 20 lines to translate from the story (in Ecce Romani II), she said that she copied down every word (even et and sed) in a long list and them looked up every word and wrote the English meaning next to it. After this tedious process she would look over the translation and then try to make sense out of it. She said that she would then become frustrated and usually give up.
I quickly saw the problem in this approach and offered some advice:
1) The problem - She was looking up the words outside of context. By making a list and writing down the meaning (usually the first one listed), she was losing or missing the meaning as it fit with the other words.
2) The other problem - She was looking up every word. I encourage my students to trust themeselves and guess at the meaning based upon the context. If she looks up movere and discovers that it means "to move," she has used valuable time on an item she could have very well anticipated.
3) My solution - Don't write down every word, or any words, for that matter. Read the sentence to yourself (preferably outloud) and then anticipate the meaning. If you need to look up a word (or a few words), do so but choose the meaning that works in context.
She took my advice and discovered that she could shave off over half the time she typically spent on translations and had a better understanding of what the Latin actually meant.