(image: By mdid)
A recent #ELTchat on twitter discussed the role of translation in the classroom. I don’t want to get into the methodological, pedagogical etc. debate but I have found that there is a time and place for using translation with classes, I have also found (anecdotally) that if you set aside some time to work with translation then the general use of students L1 decreases, almost as though by having an outlet for using their own language in class they don’t need to use it as much. These are some of the ways that I use translation in class, as far as possible I try to use it in ways that students might use it outside the class. By no means an exhaustive list and I’d love to hear if you use translation in other ways…
1. Newspapers 1 – bringing in an English newspaper article about the students country and asking them to translate it into L1 for friends and colleagues back home, a sort of ‘how does the world see us’ exercise (some caution might need to exercised in selecting articles!) -. can then feed into discussion about accuracy of original article etc.
2. Newspapers 2 – same as 1 but in reverse, ask sts to select articles in L1 about English-speaking countries and translate them into English for UK/US/Aust etc. colleagues and then discuss.
3. Notices – get sts to translate L1 notices into English for visiting tourists/business groups etc.
4. Simultaneous translating (nearly) – role play being at the doctors, police, council offices etc. where 1 st plays the English-speaking doctor, 1 plays an L1/English speaker who translates for a colleague, relation, friend etc – you can also do this the other way around of course for the English speaker visiting their country who doesn’t understand the local language.
5. Songs – okay, so not exactly an authentic exercise, but sts esp younger sts can keep more song lyrics in their heads than long lists of vocab etc. and translating them can yield some pretty good phrases and expressions and usually engages them better than CB texts.
6. Idiomatic expressions – also not totally authentic, but idiomatic language is a huge part of English and I have found it helps to find L1 equivalents as a group with sts discussing their understanding of the English phrase.
7. Bad translations – everywhere you go you meet signs badly translated into English, so working out what the sign writer was trying to say in L1 and then finding the correct or a better translation can be a good exercise (especially if you can sell the corrected version back to the hotel, town, bus company etc.!)
8. Museum etc, tours – a variation on the simultaneous translation where you go to a museum or similar with some sts and get them to take an L1 tour where they then translate for you (the dumb English tourist) and perhaps ask any questions you might have to the tour guide (best to check with the tour guides first that they’re happy to have this on their tour – most are in my experience)
9. Chinese whispers – a longish exercise but st 1 translates from L1 into English, st 2 from English into L1 and repeat as desired – the more the translations the more garbled the end result, but a good way of highlighting ambiguities/multiple meanings etc. and usually is quite fun
10. Technical translations – many of my students need English for their work which often involves reading technical language – getting them to translate passages helps them focus on precision in the language
11. Partner translations or ‘What did they say?’ – students role play being at an airport/train station etc. and hear an English announcement, they then discuss together in L1 what they think they heard/have to do etc. and then check whether they heard/interpreted correctly.
so those are my ideas, all other ideas or comments gratefully received…
A great new idea from Ingrid Braband
“What about imagining you have English speaking business partners in your company and want to go to the canteen with them? You would have to describe the German menu in English for them so that they know what they’ll get.”