“Can translation (and translation tools) facilitate language learning and how can it be used to best effect” – a summary of eltchat 12/01/11

A PLN for ELT Professionals

“Can translation (and translation tools) facilitate language learning and how can it be used to best effect” – a summary of eltchat 12/01/11

This summary has been copied from Shaun Wilden’s blog with his permission

Wednesday afternoon’s #eltchat was on the use of translation. Over my teaching career this has been a topic that has often come up in development session. As a teacher as I have got more experienced I think I have gone from the draconian ‘no use of l1’ to a more tolerant approach but nevertheless I was blown away by Guy Cook’s revelation (in a talk I saw at the weekend) that there is no research to support the ‘banning’ of translation.  I tend to agree with the point made that translation is a skill (the fifth skill as it was referred to yesterday) but we need to be careful and ensure we draw a line between L1 use in the classroom and the use of translation.

As a language learner I have always needed translation as a crutch and as one tweet said:

“Show me a beginner learner who is NOT trying to translate at some stage”

And our learning experiences seem (for the most part) to hold this view:

Teachers reflecting on their learning and translation:

–       Comparing structures is often quite useful – what crosses over between L1 and L2 and what doesn’t

–       I learnt through translation as well but must say it was when I ABANDONED translating that my acquisition took off

–       I need translation skills all the time (live with an Italian)

–       Translation is what helped me realise how uniquely different the two systems are, on multiple levels.

–       As a learner, I noticed a sequence (in myself) of translating from words to chunks…

In the summary of below I have tried to categorize the main points of chat, the topic headings are my own, I hope they reflect the chat as a whole.

Why is translation ignored?

– There is no research to suggest translation is a bad thing yet it is generally ignored

– It’s the effects of the Direct Method still gripping all other later approaches IMOHO

– I think it’s a general feeling that translation is ‘old-fashioned’ but it’s not

– What I remember most about my CertTESOL course is the icy stare I got from lecturers when I told them I actually enjoy translation

– Perhaps the problem is that many still look at translation from a grammar translation point of view, which takes us back to those boring lessons.

– Some schools actively ban L1 completely

Plus points of translation:

–       It can be great at empowering learners when they’re feeling overwhelmed by English speaker at front!

–       Translation can be useful for highlighting specific differences between L1 and L2, but should we be using it for other things too

–       Translation can be a great tool for students to grasp real meaning of what they’re saying

–       Students also seem to feel secure with some translation of vocabulary items. Maybe as you know a language more you need it less.

–       Just yesterday a student of mine said he felt much more comfortable doing his homework and using an online translator

–       Students find it very difficult to understand come concepts without translation

–       Just as some students are visual learners, etc, some will benefit more than others from translating

–       It can help convey a cultural concept from one language which does not transfer to the other

–       Translation is handy with monolingual groups when we can’t get meaning of a lexical item across after attempts: translate! Quick & effective

Some issues:

–       It’s a tricky thing for a teacher to manage or use in a multilingual class.

–       As any other tool in the language classroom, translation has to be used carefully, but it may be useful if used properly

–       Translation perpetuates the myth that the native English teacher is always best or the NEST perpetuating myth

–       It is widely used in mainly state education systems and often in “boring” grammar-translation” lessons.

–       Is there a danger of students becoming dependent on translation, if allowed more freely? The problem of overreliance.

–       It’s important that we are encouraging students to speak English rather than banning them from using their L1

–       how does L1 culture affect attitude to using translation? Issues of identity, politics all play a part.

–       Allowing students to use L1 will prevent them from acquiring important features of pronunciation, for instance

Some way to use translation:

–       Translation can be used in multilingual classes as personalised exercise

–       The lexical approach is a big advocate of translation

–       Mixing translation with pronunciation. Sentences written in phonemic script

–       Translation and contrastive analysis are important teaching tools

–       Does the teacher need to be in control or is it a way of handing over learning to the students?

–       Have multilingual classes translate poems etc into their own language

–       It can be extremely useful especially in ESP courses.

–       Get multilingual classes to translate into their L1s, then give ‘literal’ translations back into English

–       Fixing a bad translation into English is a great activity

–       Learners’ conversation are much more natural if they think about what they would say in L1 in the context before thinking about L2

–       Translating songs

–       Writing subtitles in L1 for a TV clip

–       Scraps of paper: L1 one side, L2 the other. Put in circle. Roll dice, say translation (works for very clear direct equivalents)

–       Getting students to translate L1 newspaper stories into L2 in summary and then present – works in reverse too

–       L1 can also be used for input or conversation trigger. For instance, a newspaper article in L1, but discussion in L2.

–       Drama activity: Students act out scene in L1 then watch it in L2 – great for cultural and paralinguistic features

–       For business lessons replicating real situations useful, e.g., getting students to explain menu, news headlines, signs, etc.

–       Translation great for practising reported speech as it should be practiced

–       Students can build list of troublesome false cognates

–       Find a badly translated menu and get students to improve it – mostly food vocabulary but a real task


The full transcript

An Interview with Guy Cook

Guy Cook’s recent talk on translation

Links for Translators and Translator trainees

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