*if you ever taught or were taught using the Grammar-Translation method.
I have recently completed DELTA module 2 (thank you, yes, I am exhausted) and as part of the course, we had to do an experimental practice, i.e. teach a lesson using an approach, method or technique we had never tried before. I chose translation for various reasons: I studied an MA in translation, my education in Russian at university was in the old school Grammar-Translation style, and I wanted to know if it could be ‘humanised’, or made into a communicative activity that responded to the students’ individual needs. I found this wonderful little book on experimental practice on my new favourite ELT publishing site, The Round. Experimental Practice: A Walk On The Wild Side only cost 5 euros and it was well worth it, as it supplied me with the structure of a process translation lesson which I used for my class, along with many other useful tidbits.
For those of you that are recoiling in horror at the idea of using translation or L1 in class, the idea is that interference can actually be useful. If we translate in our heads somewhere anyway, or hook the new language (L2) onto existing knowledge (L1), then why not exploit the resource? I want to share what I did with my class; the response from my students was so positive that translation activities are definitely worth thinking about doing.
Lesson aim: The idea was that the students (Upper Intermediate) would improve their L2 competence by practising collaborative language translation and developing their contrastive analysis skills (i.e. have a better idea of how English compares to Spanish, what can be translated directly, etc).
Which way? The first question was whether the task should be translation from L1 > L2 or L2 > L1. Having studied translation, I know that professional translation should only ever be done into your mother tongue. The reason for this is that you have to find the right words or phrases and for this you need to know the target language very well and also the target audience. In this class, the aim was not to produce a professional piece of translation; the aim was not a product at all, but I felt that L1>English would provide more opportunities for discussion (in English) about possible translations. Starting with a text in the students’ L1 was easy enough to do because it was a monolingual class and it meant little time needed to be devoted to comprehension of the text before translation could begin.
Text: I chose a short text that most of the students would already knew. It was the first verse of this song. It’s pretty funny in a sexist, old-fashioned way, and I thought it would lead to an interesting discussion after the translation activity (although it turned out there was no time for that in our 55-minute lesson).
- I played a bit of the song to the students and asked the if they knew it. Most of them did, so I asked to go tell each other what it was about in English.
- Next, I played the first verse again and asked the students for some words or phrases they might find in an English translation. The students discussed these in pairs and then we boarded them, talking about any different possibilities that came up.
- Now, I could tell them that an English translation didn’t exist and that they were going to work on one. It was vital at this point to make sure the students understood that the aim was to work collaboratively, discussing options. We talked for a little bit about what the main aim of translation is , i.e. conveying meaning rather than translating word for word (lots of students commented on how useful this was in the feedback).
- I gave out the text of the first verse to pairs of students and asked them to underline parts of the text that they thought would be most difficult to translate and discuss these first. This was difficult for the students to do because they really wanted to get stuck in, so in hindsight it would have helped to give the students a rationale for this (gets them thinking about the differences between the languages and gets them discussing right away). It’s also useful to give students a time limit for this part.
- Next, I asked pairs to join another group to share their ideas on the tricky bits and then work together to write a translation, again with the focus on collaboration and discussion, rather than a finished product. I allowed plenty of time for this and answered questions when asked, although I tried to hold back and let the students work things out together. I let them use the dictionaries on their phones, but they didn’t use them much at all.
- When they had finished, I took their translations in and gave them my translation to read. I made sure they knew it was just another version and not a correct one – my Spanish is about the same level as their English. I photocopied their translations and passed them around too, and we discussed any differences in the translations. If there had been time, I would have liked the students to have spent more time doing this and talking about what they liked in the other translations.
[Here are the Original lyrics and my translation in a word document.]
The students were really motivated in this lesson and each one was able to contribute and learn according to their abilities. They reported developing their knowledge of synonyms, expressions and phrasal verbs, and becoming more aware of how to translate meaning instead of word-for-word. They unanimously said that they would like to do more translation in class and that translating lyrics was enjoyable (even if some of them didn’t like this song!). I’ve not given much away from A Walk On The Wild Side (I definitely recommend reading it!), but I would like to share this one quote about translation that I got from there: that translation is “the fifth skill in second language acquisition”, according to Leonardi. Do you agree? What do you think? Would you use translation with any of your classes? What text would you choose?