Practical ideas III

25 Oct

Just the day-to-day business of managing classroom activities … There’s no reason why there should be a ‘translation’ phase of any lesson. Here are some ways of experimenting with translation / L1.


When you are speaking to the class in English and you use a word or a phrase that you think they are unlikely to know, provide a quick gloss of it in the students’ own language, repeat it in English, and then carry on. Butzkamm and Caldwell suggest that this should be a central technique of any foreign language teacher.

Speaking activities

When learners are ‘involved’ in a speaking activity, you may be relieved if they’re speaking at all. One way of making speaking activities less intimidating is by allowing a certain amount of mother tongue. When a learner really feels the need to express themselves in their mother tongue, another student’s job should be to translate and write down the challenging words / expressions. Exactly how you fix the rules is up to you! (Thanks to Sheelagh Deller and Mario Rinvolucri for first putting this idea my way.)

Allow groups of students to prepare their ideas for a discussion task in their mother tongue. Then get them to summarise these ideas in English. They then move into a different group to do the discussion itself.

Experiment with code-switching in the middle of, or at various moments during, an activity.

Add an extra dimension to roleplays by including a third person who interprets for the other two (one of whom only uses mother tongue, the other English).


During some activities, allow some students to use a bilingual dictionary and others to use a monolingual English one. At the end of the activity, encourage them to discuss the relative merits of these tools. This is a lot more fun if the dictionaries are apps on a handheld device, rather than a great clunky book.


One Response to “Practical ideas III”

  1. philipjkerr October 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    There’s a fun activity (particularly, perhaps, for students with a childish streak) that’s related to guide books and the support they offer travellers. It’s based on an old Monty Python sketch where a supposedly Hungarian tourist (John Cleese) goes into a tobacconist’s to buy some matches, etc and ends up saying things ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’ … or worse. Some groups of students have enjoyed playing with this idea. They prepare their own ‘wicked’ phrase book and then act out the sketch. One group of students in Brussels came up with ‘You look like the Manneken Pis’ as a wicked translation of ‘can you tell me the way to the Manneken Pis?’
    The original sketch can be seen here:

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