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Should ESL students translate? 1

Most of my blog posts these days are inspired by my battles with my difficult (but much loved) pupils in my day job. This week, the ongoing debate has been about translation as I’ve been making them translate sheets of sentences.

Their objections to these exercises vary, but the fundamental academic objection derives from one of those many EDIs (erroneous disruptive ideas) floating around the world’s ESL classrooms and study programs. In this case, the idea that you should never get into the whole translation thing because when you can truly speak a language you don’t need to translate, and therefore anything to do with translating means you can’t truly speak the lamguage and any attempt to translate will hamper with that speaking etc etc

In my first post on this issue I want to deal with one fundamental truth. That it is entirely unrealistic to expect students not to translate if they are following a classic ESL program. A classic ESL program means that they only study three or four hours a week (or less.)

If a student is in some kind of mega intensive, hardcore immersion program then we could begin to think of drowning them in English and endlessly prompting them in English, and never giving them a chance to translate. However, if they’re studying in regular classes, a couple of hours a week, then you can just forget about them ‘not’ translating. They’ll be translating – therefore it’s better they learn to do it properly and deal with all the false friends and peculiarities of their own language which cause problems when translated into English.

Like I said, we’ll return to this topic. However, take on board my fundamental – in programs with minmum amounts of contact time you’re students will continue with translating. Therefore, help them to do it correctly instead of living in a fantasy world where you think you can get them to stop it.

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