A recent conversation with an EFL teacher in Germany made me reflect on the pros and cons of translation exercises. My colleague noted that the textbooks she uses in her school do not focus on translation skills. With all the emphasis on immersion in the target language, traditional translation exercises seem to be losing their place in the curriculum. She questions this. Has translation become passé? Or worse, have such exercises become blacklisted?
CONS / Arguments against having students translate:
- Conscious translating hinders a student from learning to think in the target language.
- Translating could promote the false idea that every word or grammar structure in one language has its equivalent in another.
- Translating does not prompt self-expression or promote critical thinking skills as other forms of language practice do.
PROS/ Arguments for having students translate:
- Much of what is learned is learned consciously, and only over time is applied automatically. Many students translate as they prepare to write and speak. By allowing translation exercises to be done in the classroom, a teacher can guide students through the process they would likely be doing on their own and ensure it is being done in the most logical and optimal way.
- Translation exercises can develop vocabulary and grammar skills. With proper guidance, students can focus on expressing a single idea through various words and structures rather than trying to matching up forms.
- For those ELLs who plan on working as interpreters, text translators, or editors, translation exercises are very relevant.
In my next posting, I’ll offer an idea or two for those who’d like to consider using translation exercises in their lessons.