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The Importance of Teaching Translation with Language Learning

Tutorials » The Importance of Teaching Translation with Language Learning

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If you ask any translator, they will tell you that translation is not the same thing as knowing a second language.   There is more to translation than just knowing what a word or sentence means in another language.

Translation takes into account not only word meaning, but also culture, since a lot of language is filled with colloquialisms and idioms that would not make any sense if simply translated word for word into another language. A translator must also be able to interpret the “hidden meaning” behind the words and know how to re-write it in another language with that culture’s equivalent idiom or phrase to keep the same “feel”.

Traditionally, many foreign language teachers banned translation from the language learning classroom. However, it seems that the attitude toward teaching translation alongside language learning is shifting, and many even say it is an important tool to help students learn a new language better.

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Individual learners have stated that they find translation practice beneficial to their learning of a new language, which is also confirmed by empirical research.   Researchers O’Malley and Chamot established that translation, which is defined as using the first language as a base for understanding and / or producing the second language, accounted for over 30% of strategy uses amongst students (O’Malley, J, A.U. Chamot, 1990, Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Another important study done by researcher, A. Friedlander, ascertained that planning on certain language topics appear to be enhanced when writers use the language of topic-area knowledge. By translating their native language into English into English, writers were able to access more information when working in their first language. Therefore, Friedlander concluded that ESL writers should be encouraged to use their first language while composing the first draft and then translate afterwards (Friedlander, A., 1990, “Composing in English: Effects of a First Language on Writing in English as a Second Language”. In: Kroll, B. (ed.) Second Language Writing. Research Insights for the Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

As most serious educators will tell you, whatever helps a student to learn can only be considered an asset. Learning is a very subjective process: What may work best for one, will not necessarily work the best for others. So if translation is able to help some students learn better, then it certainly should be included in the curriculum as a tool to help learners become more proficient. It is merely a means to an end. Detractors to utilizing translation as a tool to help language learners are most likely getting caught up with failing to see it for what it is.


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Tutorials » The Importance of Teaching Translation with Language Learning