In my last post I promised to follow up with some more examples of activities involving translation. I was going to write about translation activities I’d used when I was working in Hungary, with a monolingual group, and no idea whatsoever of Hungarian beyond a few social chunks, answering the phone and asking for a VAT receipt (all essential tasks in my first week as a stand-in DOS). But last Friday I got involved in a twitter conversation with Mike Harrison and Fiona Mauchline about various possible translation tasks that might also work in a multilingual setting (Mike works in the UK, Fiona and I both work in Spain).
Fiona had been suggesting other opening lines and paragraphs from Spanish literature which would also lend themselves to the translation activity I described in my last post and Mike joined in with these comments:
That got us thinking about the possibilities of adapting the activity to multilingual classes and some interesting ideas were bounced around. Mike suggested asking students “to translate an idea we go over in class into L1, and then back again into English.” I’ve never tried this myself, but I think you could get some really interesting feedback on ways the various different languages work, as well as insights into the workings of English as well. I wish I was working with a multilingual class so that I could try it out!
What I have often done, and I’m sure many other teachers do as well (Andrew Pickles mentions it in his recent post) is ask students in a multilingual class to look for equivalents for fixed expressions and useful chunks in their L1 (and other languages they speak), and then to offer literal word for word translations back into English. This can be fun – and again can offer insights as to how the students’ L1s work, interesting for the teacher and classmates as well, fostering a curiosity in languages and how they work.
Fiona suggested that with higher levels you could ask students to choose a lyrical paragraph in their L1, translate it into English and share it with the class. She stressed that the translation should be lyrical, but not an “exact, exact translation” :
I think it’d be fascinating to work with translated metaphors and images, to unpack and interpret them and hunt for equivalents in English.
Before I became a teacher, when I was studying English literature as an undergraduate, I shared a flat with a Polish student. She used to ask me to help her sometimes with her written English. One day she asked me to help her with a formal thank you letter. She closed the letter with the expression, “may there always be a rainbow on your lifeway.” I loved the expression so much, I left it untouched. I didn’t want to deprive the recipient of such a wonderful image and such warm thanks. I guess that as a language teacher I was short-changing her, but the expression has stuck in my mind. I’ve no idea if it’s a fixed expression in Polish, part of the accepted conventions of letter writing, or something more personal. I wish I could go back and find out! (Or maybe someone reading this can help me out?)
More ideas kept coming and we decided that the conversation needed more space, so I’m going to put my Hungarian stories on hold again and follow up on our brief and unofficial twitter translation chat with an open invitation to you all to join in. Do you use, or have you ever used, translation activities with multilingual classes? Have you got any practical lesson ideas to share? If you do, please add them in a comment, or DM me on twitter @cerirhiannon if you’d like to add a guest post. I look forward to hearing from you, and in the meantime I’ll be writing up my Hungarian activities, along with a couple more I’ve been experimenting with recently.
Thanks for all the ideas that have been sent it so far. Here’s a quick summary with links to the comments:
ALiCe M suggests working with literal translations of proverbs from the students’ L1
Vladimira suggests comparing ads for the same products in L1 and English
Andrew Pickles (efl101) describes an activity where students prepare a poster for their country and explain it to their classmates in a tourist/promotion fair scenario
Michelle Worgan describes an activity for young learners, where they teach each other useful phrases in each other’s languages.
Ben Goldstein (commenting on the previous post) outlines an activity using film titles.
And here’s a link to a post by David Warr at the Language Garden about the importance of allowing space for L1 in the classroom (with a special emphasis on schools in the UK).