If you are teaching monolingual groups it
is clearly very useful to know the mother tongue of your
students as you can pre-empt some problems they might
have. But actually using the mother tongue as a teaching
tool has been a different story as teacher training courses
used to banish it to ELT oblivion & we used to ignore
the poor student who was desperate to translate, encouraging
them to 'think' in English. Nowadays it is recognised
as a useful & natural tool in the process of language
learning. There is still a case for not using it on the
initial training course as some teaching skills might
not be developed if translation were relied on. Here are
a few translation activities:
1. Same day articles - for news stories
that have international appeal, get hold of copies of
the English story & the students' language story -
newspapers, internet, radio.
- predict the content of the story.
- read the English version & picking
up on any useful language.
- students translate the story.
- they then compare their versions with the mother tongue
- they could also then compare the mother tongue version
& the English versions, looking at style & content.
The shorter the article the better!
2. False friends - picking up on them as
they crop up or in warmers/coolers. There is a
page about Spanish/English false friends on the site.
3. New language consolidation - after the presentation
& before the practice, elicit & have a quick comparison
with the mother tongue version of the target language
to highlight the similarities or differences. This can
be a very comforting stage for the students.
4. To provide variety to your array of techniques, use
the Community Language Learning (CLL) procedure now &
then. Very basically, this involves seating the students
in a circle with a tape recorder in the middle. They have
a conversation, preferably about a subject of their choice
but you could lead into it from the current theme, &
all of their contributions are taped. When they have a
problem, they call on you & you whisper to the student
the English version of what they want to say. They then
say this in the conversation. This technique can be used
at all levels, & is especially useful at very low
levels. If you don't speak the students' language, then
you could do all of this in English although the students
would need a level of English to be able to tell you what
they would like to say.
Before the next lesson, transcribe interesting parts of
their conversation & use it for analysis & consolidation.
5. Word-for-word versions - good for the translation obsessed
student. Give out a literal translation of a short article
or conversation & the students translate it into their
language & discuss how it could be more naturally
expressed in English.
The important thing about using translation
in class is that it is used in a principled way - you
know why you are using it, the students know, there are
times when it is OK & when it is not. The alternative
is a lazy use of translation where both the students &
the teacher become reliant on it. Discuss these issues
with your students.