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Teaching English Through Translation Essay

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The authors of this subject argue that translation is a valid tool for instruction. Present arguments for and against the use of translation in your own specific teaching situation or in an imagined teaching situation. (Before arguing, explain clearly what this situation is).


The authors of this subject argue that translation is a valid tool for instruction. Present arguments for and against the use of translation in your own specific teaching situation or in an imagined teaching situation (before arguing, explain clearly what this situation is).

There are numerous ways of conveying the meaning of an unknown word. These include a definition in the second language, a demonstration, a picture or a diagram, a real object, L2 context clues, or an L1 translation. In terms of the accuracy of conveying meaning, none of these ways is intrinsically better than any of the others. It all depends on the particular word concerned. However, studies comparing the effectiveness of various methods for learning always come up with the result that L1 translation is the most effective. This is probably because L1 translations are usually clear, short and familiar, qualities which are very important in effective definitions.

Once learners of English have achieved some basic skill in English, they will begin to learn from sources outside the classroom. Students will either come across or actively seek out English in its written and spoken forms. Any teacher will want to encourage this and reward students for what they learn outside the classroom. The students`desire to hear and read English will be recognized as a sign of commitment.

But all teachers need to give some thought to the kinds of English their students may bring back to the classroom, and need to anticipate some of the difficulties that exposure to the complex world of real English can bring about.

The sources or real English which are available without travel to an English-using place include: * conversations with foreigners

• newspapers & magazines

• radio

• satellite TV, movies or TV programs without subtitles

• song lyrics

• web chat rooms & newsgroups

• web pages

Many kinds of English will be used in these texts, from the most formal to the most informal, and the observant learner will acquire usages that teachers may not approve of (and may not even recognize). The socio cultural element in learning is particularly sensitive in EFL because in acquiring a language there is, to some extent, an appropriation of a cultural identity too. We, as teachers, are social agents and we have to manage the cultural contexts of our classroom.

Translation is cultural mediation; therefore, reading English texts about Chilean culture makes students familiar with the image of Chile such as it is perceived in the Anglo- American world. A comparison between two cultures allows the students to familiarize themselves with the linguistic elements that are unavoidably connected to their culture.

My own specific teaching situation is related to the teaching of taboo language using bilingual dictionaries.

I believe that ability to face and deal with controversy is like facing adversity in life. Schools and educators will have to train students in this relevant area and hence, will have to provide exposure through activities based on controversial topics.

Teenagers have the tendency to be interested in the words from L2 that in their mother tongue are offensive and unpolished. I think that the use of translation in taboo vocabulary is necessary because they are part of every culture, and when we teach a language we must teach the cultures in which exits. Taboos are key element of any culture, so we must teach them too.

What are taboos? Swear words, gay rights, torture, sex, drug abuse, political freedom, obscene gestures, religious belief, alcoholism, abortion, rape, democracy……

Taboos can be found in words, gestures, topics, social and cultural behavior, body language and personal space. The Oxford English dictionary defines taboo words as “…those which convention avoids or prohibits…”

Importantly for teachers, taboos vary from culture to culture. For example, the subject of how much you earn is taboo in Chile but not in other cultures, whereas homosexuality is a subject many Chilean people are uncomfortable to talk to, but in others English countries is a natural topic among teenagers.

Students rarely learn a language for purely academic reason. They learn so they can communicate with others who speak the language. In order to do this well, they have to know what language is appropriate and what is not. Learners in the modern world are constantly exposed to taboo language and topics, as teachers we have a responsibility to guide them through this.

Recalling the assignment Learning Strategies with the old Chinese saying and making the link with this assignment I would say that a teacher should teach students how to learn, together with what to learn. If we, as EFL teachers, teach our students the translation of single words, we may help them understand the meaning of those words in a particular text, context and in one particular moment. But if we teach them dictionary skills they can apply and “reuse” what they have learned in any foreign language learning context as well as in many other contexts.

There is no doubt that the single most important resource students have for learning English is their dictionary. Looking up a word in the dictionary is part of a learning strategy, as it requires specific and well developed skills. The dictionary is a powerful learning and teaching tool, but we must get to know it.

The author Jeremy Harmer in his book ” The Practice of English Language Teaching” (Longman1991 pp.174 ) says: ” Obviously the dictionary provides one of the best resources for students who wish to increase the number of words they understand…..most students in such circumstances consult a bilingual dictionary to find an equivalent in their own language….There is nothing wrong with bilingual dictionaries except that they do not usually provide sufficient information for the students to be able to use.”

There are several reasons why teachers should teach dictionary skills. First, it will give students greater control over their own learning and shift the responsibility of learning to the student. Second, dictionaries naturally generate a great deal of thinking about meaning and language. Third, the use of dictionaries in class can serve as a focus for communication and classroom interaction. Finally, dictionary training can help students explore personal preferences and learning styles and may also lead students to new modes of study.

The meaning of a given word is governed not only by the external object or idea that particular word is supposed to refer to, but also by the use of that particular word in a particular way, in a particular context, and to a particular effect.

There is a difference between the referential meaning of a word and the contextual meaning of the same word. Let us consider, for example, the expression “concha tu madre” in Spanish, when the students try to find the same in a bilingual dictionary he/she can make the translation word by word, however, in English culture this expression is not used as in Chile. In our cultural context this expression has a bad connotation and is an offence for any children because it is related to the honor of their mother.

Using taboo topics to teach language can be highly productive, as they often generate high levels of interest and involvement in learners. When we teach learners about taboo language and topics of our culture, we share something special and unique, something students do not see in course books.

I would like to say that controversial topics, like swear words, usually generate lively debates and not always end up in bitter arguments so teachers should manage them adequately and it is up to the teachers if they know how conduct debates at any class activity for practicing speaking and in this is why teachers should use for.

Finding the right meaning is our task as English teachers. The most common mistake that inexperienced dictionary users make is to take the first answer they find, without scanning the entry as a whole looking for the information they need. Personally, I have thought my students to find the correct meaning by signposting meanings in the the students`own language and by giving examples of use. I encourage students to look at the signposts and examples and get them into the habit of using them to ensure they find the information they want. Another way of raising students`awareness of this issue is to choose a word with several distinct meanings and give sentences in which the same word has different meaning according to the context.

Although we want students to use dictionaries intelligently, we do not want them to become too reliant on them. When students are reading a text in a foreign language, if they use a dictionary to look u every unfamiliar word they lose the flow of the text and become bored and frustrated. During my experience as English teacher I have tried to encourage my students to guess meanings from context by giving them a passage with several unfamiliar words in it, I tell them to read the passage once without looking anything up, trying to understand the different meanings of any unfamiliar words from their contexts.

With the purpose of developing classroom translation exercises, through my experience, it is useful to translate short sentences in order to be able to build a longer paragraph and deepen the structure of the single phrase later on.

One important point in translation is the distinction between the lexical meaning of a word and the meaning it acquires in a given context. There is a difference between the lexical meaning of a word and the contextual meaning of the same word. Let us consider, for example, the words “father” and “daddy” both refer to the same physical object, the male parent. Nevertheless, others factors contribute to the choice of one rather than the other in different situations. These factors may vary in accordance with the personality of the speaker, the presence towards his/her father as well as the degree of formality or informality between the two.

Grammatical rules are the backbone of a language and cannot be ignored. During translation, it is possible that students discover the role played by a grammatical rule and how it is applied. Teachers know that some students have special difficulty in identifying the right tenses and translating them correctly. In my opinion, it is necessary to discuss when the students find a word which usually does not have just one possible translation. In this way, students learn that every word assumes a different meaning according to the context, as well as to highlight the relationship between the two languages; L1 and L2 have different structures.

In spite of using translation in my classes I believe that the use of it should be carefully managed by teachers according to the final goal of the English practice in the classroom. The point of accuracy v/s fluency must be extremely clear.

There is no denying the fact that both accuracy and fluency are essential in language learning. However, in English teaching dominated by translation activity, accuracy is emphasized more than fluency, students in such classrooms are extremely particular about linguistic details. They never are satisfied with their language productions until the correct answers are provided. Students tend to focus on grammar points and specific syntactic constructions using dictionary or asking the teacher in L1 in order to clarify.

On the other hand, modern society is in need f people who not only read English well but also speak it fluently. I think that my students (beginners) must have a solid foundation in English, which is primarily, though not solely, built on accuracy. When once bad language habits are formed, they are difficult to break. Moreover, for the students who are learning English in a non-English speaking country, like Chilean`s students, there is little chance for them to learn an acceptable form of English outside the classroom. Soon after the students have mastered the language form (accuracy) they ought to be given intensive practice. In this way, accuracy and fluency are practiced almost simultaneously. I work with translation keeping on mind that accuracy and fluency are not mutually exclusive, but are interdependent.

As a final conclusion I would like to present he following table which is based on Seminar of English teachers from the ninth region in Chile. Among the different topics considered the use of translation was deeply studied.

I should say that almost 50% of the teachers concluded that they have used translation only to clarify vocabulary or grammar rules. As a conclusion of the topic teachers share their own point of view about the advantages or disadvantages of using translation as a teaching resource.

Advantages of using translation Disadvantages of using translation

It is a conscious process of language learning, it fully engages students in the learning process Translation focuses solely on two skills (reading and writing)

Translation helps students develop their reading comprehension abilities. It is an unnatural process because two languages are only similar and can not be considered as representing the same social reality.

Translation can be used as an evaluative technique for checking students reading comprehension. Translation is usually product-focused with emphasis on final versions; students do not have opportunity for discussing meaning. Translation simply provides meaning.

Translation is ideal for studying the language system: its focus can be altered to make it genre, lexis, structure or function-specific. Students see translation as a mechanical activity because they are not aware of the benefits of translation as a process.

It encourages students to think about meaning and form concurrently. This is because in translation students have already been provided with what they have to say, but need to say it in the target language. It places high emphasis on accuracy, contradicting current methodological tendencies.

Students`world knowledge is improved through authentic exposure to the target language. Translation can only be used in a limited number of situations like evaluation or linguistic features, but can not be used for presenting new language.

Translation can be used at all levels, and from the first lesson if required. To translate successfully requires a dee knowledge of both source and target culture.

It is a very humanistic approach, since all students are able to follow the development of the class. Text-based work focuses on only two of the four skills. This approach is not fully communicative, as it involves no oral interaction

Translation helps students notice non-equivalent linguistic and semantic features of the second language, in doing so, their attention is focused on the differences between both language systems. Only students of a particular attitude and ability/level can successfully use translation.

With translation some of the mysteries of L2 disappeared, students realize that each structure has a familiar equivalent in their mother language. Translation is essentially an individual language task; it does not encourage student’s interaction and wastes class practice time.

Using translation can help teachers to guide students`attention to ingrained errors, such as false cognates, word order or time-tense distinction. The word that students want to translate to does not always cover the same range of meaning and connotation of the target word.

Translation gives students excellent practice in the subskills of reading and writing. Using L2 to L1 translation will improve, among other things, in reading: understanding conceptual meaning, identifying relevant information, deducing meaning from context, etc.

In writing: focusing on new information, selection and use of register and style, sequencing ideas, coherence, etc. Some structures or verb forms that exist in English do not exist in Spanish.

Translation can help make students`writing more complex if they think of what they want to say in L1 and then, with translation, change those ideas into L2. Using translation can make students very teacher/dictionary dependent.

As a final conclusion, I would say that nowadays in Chile, namely in the region I work, there is a tendency of teaching which is not made up of a particular methods or traditional approach, ( Grammar Translation, Communicative Language Learning, Task_Based Approach, and the last alternative approach Community Language Learning). Teachers do not choose one or another, but rather to select those aspects which are useful and appropriate for certain teaching situations. In this way, knowing different methods and approaches can give teachers an initial practical knowledge base to explore and develop their own beliefs, principles and practices.

Denying the use of the first language denies the students access to an important learning tool: other students. Permitting the students to use their L1 enables them to check their understanding of what they have been asked to do, as well. They can help each other organize their ideas or choose a more precise lexical item to explain their thoughts to the class or to the teacher in L2.

Translation can be a very valuable classroom activity; however, as teachers we must have on mind some strategies in order to adopt and make translation useful for our students, among them I consider two: to make translation a process-based activity, including all students, encourages meaningful and independent interaction in English and try and provide students with learner-centred, cognitive translation activities to help students notice the differences and similarities between L1 and L2 meaning-patterns in the short term memory and of the language system as a whole in the long term memory. I think that in this way, will help them acquire the patterns of the L2 and lessen the influence of the L1 on their developing interlanguage.


*Newmark, Peter: (1988) “Approaches to Translation”. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

*Nord, Christiane: (2001) “Translation as purposeful Activity-functionalist Approaches”

Shangai Foreign Educational Press.

* Numan, David: (1989). “Designing tasks for the Communicative classroom.”

Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

*Larsen_Freeman D, (2000) “Techniques and Principles in language teaching”

Oxford University Press.

• www. eslflow.com

• http:// ivc.vidaho. edu

• www. englishraven.com


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