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20 ways of doing translation into the target language

In my last blog I looked at ways of practising translation into English. This time I'm going to suggest ways of approaching translation into the second language. Translation from L1 to L2 is what we might call an "output activity". It does not provide much meaningful input, but focuses on grammatical form and knowledge of vocabulary. It does a supply a small amount of input in the sense that the final product is in the target language. It is also reasonable to assume that it does help embed a command of vocabulary, morphology and syntax. Many pupils find it hard and it will feature in future GCSE exams in England and Wales (20% of writing marks).

There is a really good Slideshare presentation about this topic:

What variations can we find on translation into the TL? If you read the last blog you'll see some of these are mirror images!

  • Teacher-led sessions where sentences or a passage are translated with hands up, or no hands up. This is very traditional and has merit. Pupils are subject to a high level of modelling and get to think like the teacher. The downside is that only one pupil talks at a time (a good thing?!) and there is no guarantee that all students are paying attention. Make sure they write material down so they are active and use whatever techniques you have in your armoury to get all students thinking (deadly stares, eyebrows up, jokes, no hands up, repeat the previous answer etc.) Make sure pupils get enough thinking time and that the quickest do not dominate. This can be done "in rough" in class, then written up at home.
  • "Running translation". I mentioned this in the last blog. This time the fetcher finds the English from the classroom wall where you have stuck up the texts and the scribe (maybe with fetcher's help) translates. Make it a race.
  • "Find the translation" - give students a list of quite hard sentences, short paragraphs or even individual words for beginners. Post translations around the classroom (or hide them) for them to find individually or in teams. Make it a race.
  • Allow pupils to use Google Translate to see how well it does and to make corrections where they see fit. They will learn something from the process and, let's face it, if they get the chance, many will use it anyway.
  • Work in groups. each group does a different section of text. then bring it all together. Add a competitive element with a time limit or race.
  • Produce gapped passages in the TL, with phrases at the bottom in English to be translated and inserted where appropriate. This has the added merit of providing some TL input and focus on meaning.
  • Get students to sign up for a forum like Wordreference. Give them specific words or phrases to research.
  • Give them phrases to research using Linguee (
  • Do "real life" tasks such as menus and recipes to translate from English. This can include elements of design if you want it to. 
  • Dictation-translation. The teacher just reads sentences in English for pupils individually or in pairs to translate. Best answers could be rewarded.
  • Paired or grouped translation. Each pair or group does a different section of a passage, then the others hear the solutions with extra modelling by the teacher.
  • Whole class pelmanism. You provide each pupil with a sentence either in English or TL. Pupils hold up their cards. You could adapt this in a number of ways.
  • "Pick the best translation". Give a paragraph in English with three TL versions of it. Pupils choose the best one. You can make them as hard as you want.
  • Role playing with cues in English (like the old GCSE and maybe the new one!).
  • Guided composition writing with detailed cues in English. This ends up being akin to translation. "Transfer of meaning", if you like.
  • Use parallel texts to model effective translation.
  • Explain why you are doing it. Tell them it's mainly about knowing vocabulary and getting grammatically accurate. Warn them, of course, that a word-for-word approach only works sometimes.
  • Give out faulty translations of sentences or a passage and get pupils to correct individually or in pairs. You could make it a race. They come up and show you their corrected versions.
  • English/TL dialogues - one line in English, one in TL. Pupils translate the English either orally or in writing, or maybe orally, then in writing for reinforcement. Can be done in pairs or individually.
  • Get excellent pupils to be the teacher of a small group. They then can play act and model good answers. Class control would need to be tip-top for this, but it could be good fun and very productive.


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…