Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):

France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…