his article deals with the issue of how translation might best be used as a teaching technique in language classes. It initially presents a short historical review of the issue. Presenting some major reasons for taking translation as a teaching technique, the paper offers some practical guidance for incorporating the technique in the classrooms.
A historical review
Using translation as a teaching technique has had many ups and downs, that is, in different periods it has been an accepted as a teaching device or regarded as a controversial subject depending on prevailing objectives and teaching preferences (Rivers and Temperely,1978). For many years it was right at the heart of language teaching, and indeed it was one of the basic elements of language in the medieval universities and schools (Duff, 1990). However, for the past few decades, translation has been generally out of favor and taking Duff's words "it has been sent to Siberia"!
A brief glance at the history of teaching English as a foreign language would demonstrate these "ups" and "downs". Translation was important in teaching Greek and Latin in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Grammar Translation Method was the only method for teaching these languages. Translation in this method had such a dominant role that it was later, in mid-nineteenth century, employed in teaching modern languages. Proponents of this method claimed that translation interpreted the words and phrases of the target language in the best possible manner and ensured comprehension of the vocabulary items, collocations and sentences. For them foreign phraseology is best assimilated in the process of interpretation, and the structures of the foreign languages are best learned when compared and contrasted with those of another language (Gautam, 1988). However, excessive application of translation led to complete failure of the Grammar Translation Method and the drastic decline of the role of translation in TEFL.
There are some good reasons for the purposeful inclusion of translation activity in our classrooms.
Later on, Berlitz (1887), the founder of the Direct Method, severely reacted against the Grammar Translation Method and totally rejected translation. Thus, the Direct Method theorists de-emphasized it as a teaching device excluding it from the early instruction as much as possible while admitting it as an art at the advanced stages (Rivers and Temperly, 1978).
A study undertaken in 1923 on the state of foreign language teaching concluded that no single method guarantees successful results (Richards and Rodgers, 1990). The study, published as the Coleman Report, advocated that a more reasonable goal for a foreign language course would be a reading knowledge of the foreign language achieved through the gradual introduction of words and grammatical structures in simple reading texts. Coleman (1929) offered a compromise in the application of translation. Translation of some of the reading passages and grammatical structures was permissible. The use of the mother tongue was not prohibited in language instruction. Once again, translation was able to establish itself as a technique. Coleman allowed translation for better comprehension and interpretation of the reading passages.
Like the Direct Method, the Audio-Lingual Method attempted to develop target language skills without any reference to the mother tongue. This approach abandoned translation for its mental burden on the learner and advocated habit formation and conditioning without the intervention of any intellectual effort. According to this approach, in the process of habit formation via stimulus and response, old habits tend to get in the way of the new ones. The theory predicted that negative transfer from the first to the second language would take place in the learning process. Thus, it was believed that the elimination of the mother tongue from the learning environment would facilitate second, or foreign, language learning.
However, the Cognitive Approach, as a reaction to the Audio-lingual Approach rediscovered valuable features in the previous methods and thus emphasized translation (Stern, 1991). In this way the role of the mind, mentalistic activities, conscious and meaningful learning were also emphasized. The natural outcome of this emphasis was the revival of translation as a means of making the learning more meaningful and contextual. The Communicative Approach was initially hostile to the use of translation in the classroom, but later it adopted a flexible approach. The inclusion of translation activities in the Headway textbooks is the sign of such flexibility. Apart from these ongoing "ups-and-downs," there are some reasons and inherent benefits in using translation as a teaching tool.
Reasons for using translation as a teaching technique
- What the students think and feel about language learning is of great importance in language teaching and this should be taken into account in any course planning (Nunnan 1999). In some cases it is inevitable that language learners use their dominant languages (L1) as a resource. Indeed it is a kind of individual learning style for some students.They need to be able to relate lexis and structures of target language into their equivalents in their mother tongue. Therefore, sound pedagogy should make use of this learning style.
- Translation makes the students develop their reading comprehension ability. It is quite obvious that before one can translate any text, he or she should read the text carefully, trying to make sense of its features like sentence structures, context and register. In other words, there should be a kind of textual analysis, which is very important in reading comprehension (Chellapan 1982). Indeed the difference between translation and reading is the degree of attention paid by the reader or translator, that is, in translation attention weighs far more heavily than in mere reading.
- Translation is a conscious process of learning. In the translation process there are two types of activities both of which require full engagement of the learner. The first activity is "understanding" the source text and the second is "formulating" it in the target language (Herry and Higgins, 1992). This latter characteristic is what distinguishes translation from reading.
- Translation is a kind of communicative activity, which is practiced within a meaningful context (Duff 1990). It enhances interaction between the teacher and the students and among the students themselves due to the fact that rarely is there any absolute "right" rendering of the text.
- Translation can be used as an evaluative technique in reading classes. As reading is totally unobservable, comprehension should be inferred from the other behavior; it is important to be able to accurately assess students comprehension of the text read. That is, among the other techniques like "doing," "transferring," "answering," "extending," and "modeling," we may ask students to translate part of the reading text into their native language to ensure if they have fully grasped the meaning. This can be done at the end of the reading lesson.
As we have already discussed, students usually use L1 as a resource, so as teachers we should try to find out ways of exploiting this resource rather than neglecting it. To this end, some practical guidelines are presented below:
- Extreme care should be taken in selecting texts to be translated by the students. Naturally, dull, overlong and uncommunicative texts that are difficult to translate usually demotivate the students. So, it is much more practical to start with short communicative texts.
- In practical teaching situations, the students who are to work on translation should be given prior guidance on practical procedures before being engaged in the translation itself. Initially they should be told that translation is not just taking the pen and starting the translation word by word or sentence by sentence. They should be briefly informed of translation procedures like "preparation," "analysis," "transfer," "initial draft," "rewording," "testing the translation," "polishing," and "final manuscript" (Larson 1987).
- Grouping the students is of great importance in our classes. It offers a cooperative climate and promotes learners responsibilities (Brown 2001). So, to get the best translation, students can work in groups and participate in oral discussions. These activities surely will make the translation task interesting since the students are learning the language in an active way.
- To use translation as an effective teaching tool, the difficulty of the texts should be taken into account. In the selection of the texts, we should not only pay attention to the degree of second-language (L2) proficiency, but also the degree of difficulty of the texts. Unfortunately, there is not any comprehensive view on determining the text difficulty; however, teachers can make a prediction of the relative difficulty of a given text. One practical way of handling this problem is the initial adaptation of authentic translation material. In this way, some lexical, semantic, syntactic and discourse elements, which are supposed to impede the students' comprehension, may be manipulated (Darian, 2001).
There are some good reasons for the purposeful inclusion of translation activity in our classrooms. First of all, as a communicative activity, it enhances interaction between teacher and students and among the students themselves. Second, being a conscious process of language learning, it fully engages the learners in the learning process. Third, translation helps students develop their reading comprehension abilities. Fourth, it can be used as an evaluative technique for checking students reading comprehension of a particular text. However, in order to obtain the above-mentioned benefits, we must consider some points. The students should be initially given prior guidance on the practical procedures of translation activity and encouraged to work in groups to get the best translation. The degree of students' L2 proficiency along with the degree of the text difficulty should also be considered.
Brown, H. Douglas. (2001) Teaching by Principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. Second edition: NY. Longman.
Chllapan, K. (1982) Translanguage, Translation and Second Language Acquisition. In F. Eppert (Ed.), Papers on translation: Aspects, Concepts, Implications (pp. 57-63) Singapore: SEMEO Regional Language Center.
Coleman, A. (1929). The Teaching of Modern Languages in the United States. New York: Macmillan.
Darian, S. (2001) Adapting Materials for Language Teaching. FORUM. Vol. 39.NO: 2 June: p.2
Duff, A. (1990) Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gautam, K. (1988) English Language Teaching: A critical study of methods and procedures. Harman Publishing House.
Hervey, S. and Higgins, I. (1992) Thinking Translation: A course in translation method. London: Rutledge.
Larson, M. L. (1984) Meaning -based Translation: A guide to cross language equivalence. University press of America.
Nunnan, D. (1999) Second Language Teaching and Learning. Boston: Heinle& Heinle Publishers.
Richards, J. C. and Rodgers, T. (1990) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rivers, W. M. and Temperly, M. S. (1978) A Practical Guide to the Teaching of English as a Second Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stern, H. H. (1991) Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.