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14 Nov

This blog was written to accompany a series of talks that I will be giving (or have already given) between 2011 and 2013 on the subject of translation in English language teaching. Its primary purpose is to act as a handout for the talk.

There won’t be any new posts, but anything new that I (or you) want to add will be done through the comments or through edited versions of the original posts. You might want to check from time to time to see what is new.

A number of versions of this talk can be viewed online.  Here’s one:

I hope that at least some of the ideas and suggestions will prove useful to you. In the spring of 2014, my book, provisionally entitled Translation and Own-Language Activities, in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series, will be published.



The dangers of overuse

30 Oct

In a nutshell:

We do not equate the use of the first language in the second or foreign language classroom with passing out a license to overuse of the first language, that is, to become so dependent on the first language that teachers and learners cannot function in a second or foreign language classroom without it. Whatever benefits first language use may bring, it is clear that the ultimate goal of a second or foregin language classroom remains the learning of the target language; practices that undermine this ultimate goal must be avoided. (Turnbull, M. & Dailey-O’Cain, J. 2009 p.2)

Atkinson (ELTJ 41/4, 1987 p.246) lists the following dangers of overuse:

1. The teacher and / or the students begin to feel that they have not ‘really’ understood any item of language until it has been translated. 2. The teacher and / or the students fail to obersve distinctions between equivalence of form, semantic equivalence, and pragmatic features, and thus oversimplify to the point of using crude and inaccruate translation. 3. Students speak to the teacher in the mother tongue as a matter of course, even when they are quite capable of expressing what they mean. 4. Students fail to realise that during many activities in the classroom it is crucial that they use only English.

It would not be too hard to add to this list!

The Babel fish

25 Oct

Douglas Adams came up with the idea of a Babel fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You stick a Babel fish in your ear and you can instantly understand and be understood by all. But such technological wizardry comes at a price because, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between races and cultures, it has caused more wars than anything else since the beginning of history.

You can watch a 2 minute Youtube clip if you want

Yahoo! picked up on this idea when they named their online translation tool ‘Babelfish’.