Role of translation in language teaching
Thread poster: Palko Agi

Palko Agi  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Jul 6, 2004

Hello, "double colleagues"!

I teach Hungarian for foreigners, and also English in a secondary school.
I think translation in language classrooms is a problem today. Teachers either use it according to the old fashioned Grammar-Translation Method, and making classes very boring, or they omit it from the classes, trying to use English most of the time.

In Hungary translation is still a part of the School Leaving Exam (while most of the language exams are monolingual), so in the lsat year they have to deal with it, but again teaching translation is reduced to teaching words and grammar. I can see it in my school and in my daughter's school, too. Nobody teaches translation skills, techniques, and doing translation practice orally is absolutely unheard of. One of the reasons can be that in Hungary today most English teachers (probably teachers of other languages, either) do not know the rules of Hungarian language, stylistisc etc.
Do you have the same problem? Can you incorporate all that you know about translation in your teaching process? Any ideas or good on-line materials?


Csaba Ban  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
also ask in the Hungarian forum Jul 6, 2004

Szia Ági,

This would be a very good topic in the Hungarian forum! I am sure the Hungarian Proz community will also have some language-specific ideas about this.



Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:40
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Who would teach proper translation and why? Jul 6, 2004

Historically school translation comes down from studying the classics. The teacher knew by heart what Caesar had written and how it should be translated.
School translation is still a useful tool when used orally, reading the foreign language text and tell the meaning in your own words.
But why should pupils learn real translation of modern texts? It would take years and after all are they too young for it. And who would teach it? Language teachers are no translators, that are quite different professions.
So I don't quite understand what's the problem.
And why language teachers in Hungary do not know Hungarian? Where do they come from?


Stefan Keller  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
English to German
Don't see the relation either Jul 6, 2004

I completely agree with Heinrich:

Teaching languages and teaching translation are two completely different things. Those who fluently and perfectly "speak" two or more languages are by no means automatically excellent translators.



Palko Agi  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
English to Hungarian
+ ...
some explanation Jul 28, 2004

Sorry, I haven't been around for a while...

I would like to explain my posting.
Some FLT methodology experts say that there are not only 4 skills in the process of learning the language (reading, writing, listening and speaking) but 5, and the fifth is translation. I agree with this.
What Heinrich mentioned is a very useful tool in class, a lot of teachers use it, but it is also very old, and quite boring.

I once did a survey among English teachers in Hungary. Most of them use translation in their Enlgish classes according to the old Grammar-Translation method. Others, mostly young teachers, use more or less the Communicative approach, so they try not to use L1 in the class, and that also means they do not translate in class.

I think these two are extremes, and the solution should be somewhere in the middle.

As far as I can see, many students finish secondary school with a medium level English, some even pass an exam. After school, whether studying at a college or working somewhere, if they use their English at all, most of the time it is NOT communicating with native speakers, but reading something for their studies/work, and translating it for themselves or for the others.

By translation here I do not mean producing a proper, final text to be published that most of us do here on this site. But they still translate for themselves, for their colleagues etc.

However, if we do not teach them the basic skills of translation, they will not be able to do this. Let me give you an example. I teach in a technical secondary school. Our students, when they graduate, became "technicians", some kind of middle-level experts in electronics. And they have to understand/translate Enlgish texts, e.g. description of different devices. But when they open a dictionary, they don't know that they should check all the meanings of a word, and choose the best one according to the context, they simply use the very first meaning given. This is something we should teach them in school. And there are a lot of other, important sub-skills like this that are lost in the fashionable new methods today. Since most of the coursebooks are published in Britain, for world-wide use, they cannot be language-specific.

If the teachers are aware of the linguistic differences between L1 and L2, they can avoid these problems. But I am not sure they are. In Hungary, somebody can study English at university without knowing Hungarian grammar. I remember at university many of my fellow-students had a lot of problem with English grammar because they didn't know what a predicate is or what the difference is between an adjective and an adverb.
And now at school I have colleagues who make a lot of mistakes when they write in Hungarian. Spelling, grammar, stylistic etc. mistakes. How could they teach translation then?

I am sure this is not a language-specific problem, and it arises everywhere where a foreign language is taught.


Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:40
German to English
Depends on the goals of the course Jul 28, 2004

Occasional translation exercises can be useful in an internediate or advanced class, mainly as a way of checking whether the student can render an idiomatic expression from the source language into the target language. Translations are also useful for checking whether the student can identify "false friends." If the students are studying the language with the goal of speaking fluently, these exercises would be less useful.


French to English
it seems to me... Feb 18, 2006

that many students' natural response to learning a new language is to translate, even if badly (word for word in very strange syntax, for instance). modern communicative/immersion classes tend to avoid translation as much as possible to avoid the traps inherent to beginners translating. the idea is to make it clear from the start that the new language works by its own rules, such that they're not erroneously applying their native language's rules to it, and also to facilitate the speaking and listening processes--it's hard to keep up with a conversation if you're mentally translating each word and then trying to reconstruct it in your own language. simultaneous interpretation is already difficult for fluent speakers and just leaves huge gaps for the beginner.

some aspects of translation are inevitable in a beginning language class, such as how to use a dictionary, but for the sake of efficiently learning to communicate in a language, translation is more trouble than it's worth at the beginning levels unless the primary goal of learning the language is to be able to translate from it, as might be the case with latin, but chances are, those hungarian english students will face situations where they need to have conversations and correspondences in english. perhaps a crash course in translation would be a useful preparation for the test after they've already attained a certain proficiency level.


Maxi Inge
Local time: 05:40
German to English
+ ...
translation is not necessarily part of language learning Apr 1, 2007

The best way to learn or teach a language is by experiencing that language within its own unique setting. In other words, you don't think in French when learning German: you think in German from day 1. The classical order in which language is learned follows the same pattern that a child uses: listen --> speak --> read --> write, and that is also the "language immersion" approach.

It is much more difficult to create a curriculum and learning material for such a program, than to use translation. For one thing, sentence patterns must be carefully thought out and built, without the deviation that a native speaker would use. The meaning of words must be brought across without use of another language. The patterns of sentences (children learn through patterns) must be carefully designed, etc. Teachers need to be specially trained as second language teaching experts, which is altogether a different thing than mastering a second language. It is like the difference between a multilingual person, and a trained translator.

The second problem is that of the classroom environment. Usually some kind of assessment takes place of language proficiency. That means some form of test which a teacher must administer and correct. Therefore written work must be introduced much too early, and translation type scenarios must perforce be used. The methodology addresses administrative needs, rather than being the most ideal manner of teaching.

The trap in using written words too early is that letters already carry a sound in the student's mind. A French R is not the same as an American R, so the American learning French by reading it will give a phonic meaning to that sound, putting it through his own "crible phonologique", as a linguistics professor once put it. If our American has first experienced the language, he will hear the word in his head, and is much more likely to pronounce the word that way.

These are just some random thoughts.


Local time: 20:40
Italian to English
Good topic Apr 23, 2007

Good topic indeed! I also teach ESOL English to Italian students and tend to speak in my native language all the time....there are some classes though e.g. Young Learners or KET levels that require some translation work on the vocabulary.

[Edited at 2007-04-23 09:55]


Kootvela (X)
Local time: 12:40
Lithuanian to English
+ ...
project on translation in class Aug 1, 2007

I am in doubt when it comes to this topic. The current methodology wave is communicative and it is to do everything it takes but translate. I hold a view that translation is a facilitating tool where communicative approach fails, e.g. culture bound words. I will go deeper into the subject soon.

As for today, I don't think it is bad to ask the students to translate the sentence just to make sure they got it right.


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Role of translation in language teaching

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