Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Translate or not to Translate, that is the Question

If you have taught ESL for any length of time you have probably seen some very interesting translations, or perhaps you have tried to make sense of some instructions for some kind of electronics you may have purchased. That is a real challenge. One reason that I enjoy teaching younger students is that they learn a new language in much the same way that they learn their first language. If a student writes in their first language and tries to translate it into English it surely will be a mangle of bad grammar, word order and vocabulary. Some languages follow similar word order and sentence structure, others do not resemble English, so I always recommend that students do not translate writing from their first language. When a student writes in English they can usually produce a far superior piece of writing. This idea is also true in the oral area of language acquisition. Chinese is quite "flowery" and I'm sure it possesses a very poetic nature, but it just does not translate well without high level skills. So you must insist that the student write from what they know in English.

This brings me to another point that I feel is critical to the development of the students language skills. Many students want to be placed in the more advanced classes, before they have really mastered the basics in the beginning levels. This is really a big mistake. Surely, it is easy to understand that they want to attain higher levels but moving into the more advanced classes is sure to stunt their growth. They frequently cannot comment on the lesson or the concepts. Here in China this is especially true because the system of education does not foster that kind of critical thinking. It does not mean they cannot think for themselves, it only means they are unaccustomed to extrapolating information and forming an opinion, since most of their classes have only one point of view, the teachers. So it is often quite difficult to start or maintain any discussions that require personal opinions. The culture promotes a certain don't talk don't tell attitude. This is quite normal considering the history of free expression. It is not that they can't it just is drilled into them socially. This is changing somewhat as information and ideas flow into their world via the net and other sources. There is a new generation of students who have access to a more worldly view. A few years ago it was practically unheard of to have a student disagree with a teacher. This old view of education, the Greek idea of a discussion between the teacher and the student perhaps is making a comeback. It will certainly be a challenge to the teachers in China as they will have to reeducate themselves in how to teach in this way.

So don't be tempted to place students in higher level classes before they have mastered the easy classes, translate only for vocabulary, and conduct your classes in a way that creates a never ending flow between the text and speaking about it out of the book and your students will begin to think in English and develop good grammar. If you get them at a young age the will be learning in a similar way that students learn in their first language, which translates to accelerated learning.

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worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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At 11:15 PM, Anonymous boncuman said...



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