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Are translators good teachers?
Thread poster: Victor Zamorano

Victor Zamorano
Spain
Local time: 10:40
French to Spanish
+ ...
Nov 5, 2017

Hi,

After some experiences in both sides, I'm recently getting more involved in teaching Spanish as a foreign language than in translating; mainly listening and speaking sessions with French students with some previous knowledge of Spanich in a online platform. I'm noticing that my way of teaching is clearly biased by my translation background. I know, it's logical to some extent, but I think now if that translating background makes it more difficult for me to express ideas in a simple, pedagogical way.

I'd like to ask you if you have had similar experiences and you opinion about it. Thanks in dvance!


 

Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:40
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Depends, I think Nov 6, 2017

I did it the other way round and somehow I manage to separate the two areas. And somehow I think lengthy, comlicated phrasing origins from the person more than from the occupational area, i.e., from the inability to separate the whole thing into smaller blocks. Or rushing to give it all here and now.
Face teaching like building a house: first, goes structure, then the consolidating walls and only the the decoration comes.
Don't rush and you will find your way.


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
depends on learners and their goals Nov 6, 2017

If one is good enough to realize and explain that any language is but a means towards the end, then it's ok.

On the other hand, a teacher shouldn't get too low and too long just to compensate the difference between his/her and students' levels--at the expense of proficiency.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:40
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Teaching Nov 6, 2017

Teaching skills are completely separate from translating skills. You may be a good translator, but that doesn't mean you would be good at teaching translation. Being a good teacher (of anything) requires interpersonal skills that many translators (being solitary personalities) may not possess.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:40
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It's complementary, but totally different Nov 6, 2017

VictorZB wrote:
I'm noticing that my way of teaching is clearly biased by my translation background. I know, it's logical to some extent, but I think now if that translating background makes it more difficult for me to express ideas in a simple, pedagogical way.

I went from EFL teaching in France to translating from French, and did both for some years. I see them as very different skills, and interpreting as different again. I found that interpreting really wasn't the job for me, but then I felt that way about teaching until I did my training course. Teaching was on my "never going there" list, but it was an obvious career choice when I left the UK, and I actually really took to it in the end. (Mind you, I hated the experience of trying to teach kids icon_frown.gif.)

When you think about it, as a translator you're trying to find the very best phrasing - the most elegant rendition. That's the complete opposite of what a low-level student needs. You can't expect them to start using all the tenses at once, for example - they'd get hopelessly confused and overwhelmed. For a student's first lesson, "the green car is fast" may be less elegant than "the car sporting the colour often referred to as British racing green is capable of incredible acceleration" but it's a whole lot more useful to them icon_smile.gif.

I really think that you (speaking generally here) need to be taught to teach. Being a native speaker is not enough; being a linguist is not enough.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends. Nov 6, 2017

Like Sheila, I started out in TEFL before eventually getting into translation full-time. I think having worked as a translator will give you linguistic insights that may be useful when teaching, but as our colleagues have already mentioned, the skill set needed is different. My advice is that if you are happy teaching, can make a living from it, and can see your students learn and progress, then you should concentrate on that. You can always go back to translation, or acccept the occasional job just to keep your hand in.

Teaching Spanish to French speakers shouldn't be too difficult in terms of grammar, and I would expect to have to concentrate mainly on pronunciation and vocabulary building.


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:40
German to English
Difference in techniques Nov 6, 2017

I've taught various languages in the course my career, and I've always relied on pedagogical courses I took during my studies. There are techniques and psychological approaches that apply to language teaching. They may vary, but modern methods rely on providing an example, getting a response from the language learner and providing immediate feedback, followed by possible explanations as needed (which may be delayed, depending on the teaching objective). It sounds easy, but it takes practice to find the right balance between practice and explanation.

This differs from teaching translation which might rely on providing an example, analyzing it, posing a similar problem, then getting the learner to analyze the example and provide a translation.

Another issue has to do with teaching your native language. You may have an intuitive knowledge of how your language works, but explaining it to a language learner is an entirely different matter. You might profit from studying a grammar book designed for native speakers.


 

Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
Teachers in general get a bad rap sometimes Nov 6, 2017

To teach anything properly, one has to have a set of skills that do not come from wishful thinking or from observing other teachers (although the latter helps somehow).

I have taught translation courses for almost 3 years in two institutions. I had no teaching qualifications and I wasn't required to have them. That's the main problem. As others have said, teaching requires learning how to teach in general and learning how to teach a particular subject to a particular audience.

Needless to say, one cannot acquire these skills by reading a book or navigating the Web for teaching tips, or attending a webinar. I know I have to improve my teaching, but I have to be taught by the proper people first. That's one of the reasons I embarked on my current PhD program.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ignorance is bliss Nov 6, 2017

Kevin Fulton wrote:

Another issue has to do with teaching your native language. You may have an intuitive knowledge of how your language works, but explaining it to a language learner is an entirely different matter. You might profit from studying a grammar book designed for native speakers.


Very true. Native English speakers tend to have limited knowledge of the grammar and workings of their own language, unless they've studied a foreign one. I remember studying French in my first year at secondary school, and I had no idea what these "tenses" and other grammar terms were that the teacher was talking about.

I also know a lot of native English speakers who learnt most of their English grammar when teaching EFL thanks to books like English Grammar in Use (https://trucoslondres.com/english-grammar-in-use/)...


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:40
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I would be hopeless as a teacher... Nov 6, 2017

... but seem to do quite well as a translator.

I lack the basic desire to pass on my knowledge. I simply do not have the patience or the 'people skills'. I have loved and respected a lot of good teachers during my life, but that just makes me even more aware that teaching is not for me.

Some of my colleagues are excellent teachers and translators, and as others have found, the skills interact and complement each other. Probably good language teachers are reasonable translators if they have the time and inclination, but some may be better as interpreters, I don't know.


 

Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 03:40
German to English
+ ...
If they have teacher training Nov 7, 2017

It's like asking "Are language teachers good translators?" Knowing two languages does not make someone a translator, or a language teacher, just like knowing anatomy does not make someone a physician or a sculptor.
I have training in both fields, having at different times earned my certification as a translator and as a teacher. Language teaching is a separate specialization - I interned with a wonderful master teacher teaching grade 1 in an immersion school, using the Lesablier method. That was during another life.icon_smile.gif


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
How do children learn? Nov 7, 2017

If even children just watch their parents (mostly not certified teachers) and other people talking different languages and doing many things, then adults should learn it deliberately and even better.

Only two (2) things matter: necessity and interest.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:40
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
teaching Nov 7, 2017

I agree that teaching and translation are two different skill sets, with a good knowledge of languages being the only common skill.

I started out teaching and then moved into translation as it worked better for me when the children were small.
Well, in fact, I had a meltdown one day when a dim student balked at adding an s for the 3rd person singular in the present simple. I asked whether she had heard me making any mistakes in verbs when speaking in French. When she admitted that she hadn't, I screamed that French people had no right to complain about English verbs: all English irregular verbs can fit on a single sheet of A4 whereas the French have an entire BOOK for theirs.

When I got home, I decided I was probably burnt out. I'm very patient, and had been given too many dimwits and not enough bright sparks because of that. So when a friend asked if I could help out with a translation, I jumped at the opportunity and have not looked back since.


 

Lidia Morejudo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
It depends Nov 7, 2017

I don't think it has anything to do with being a translator. It has to do with the person, your personality, and many other things. I know people with zero teaching training and are excellent teachers, I know people with many teaching certificates who are good at filling the paperwork but crap at teaching.

Teaching languages is also its own world. When I started teaching Spanish as a foreign language I was good at grammar, but the grammar you need to teach a foreign language is "grammar of use" not the in depth grammar analysis you are taught in school or when you do an MA of translation.

If you feel uncomfortable because you think your explanations are not clear enough for the students, maybe get a few different books of Spanish as a foreign language and have a look at the explanations ,etc. If you are working with other teachers, maybe ask one of them to be your mentor.


 

George Kihanda
Tanzania
Local time: 11:40
Swahili to English
+ ...
Teaching and Translating Skills are not very separate. Nov 8, 2017

Teaching skills are not completely separate from translating skills. By being a good translator it helps you to improve your teaching methods. Interpersonal skills without proper teaching methods lead to nothing. In my country for example, there are many teachers with their interpersonal skills but I have not heard them telling the students origins of Swahili Grammar words like of chasafiri, charuka, chakimbia until I became a translator myself then I was able to find out that these words are in relation to verbs and subjects derived from last syllable of demonstrative markers and I have already explained it to teachers and students of Swahili language all over the world in my Ebooks on Amazon. In short, a good translator is a teacher of teachers. You can be a teacher by writing books without meeting students face to face to show your interpersonal skills.

George Mwidima Kihanda
Writer, Translator and Teacher of Swahili Grammar Books

https://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Swahili-Grammar-Detailed-Examples/dp/1522078371


 
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