French Language: Don’t just teach it, translate it

French language in classroom

Translation as a French Language Teaching Tool

Translation can be controversial when it comes to language teaching. Yet, as a former French language teacher in my youth, some of the best and unforgettable teaching moments came with the use of translation.

Not Every Word Has Its Equivalent in Another Language

The use of classroom translation with children might be counterproductive. Why is that? Because it makes students believe that every language has an equivalent word in its target language. Something that every translator (and French language teacher!) knows that it is far from true. However, it may be difficult to completely avoid translation with early-stage learners, especially when it comes to adults, since they are already able to express themselves using more sophisticated vocabulary. However, demonstrating what problems a “literal” translation brings can be a good teaching tool at basic and intermediate levels. It could help demonstrate not only the complexity of L1 (first language) and L2 (second language or non-native language) and the importance of understanding context and culture, along with grammar and vocabulary.

Benefits of Translation Are Significant at Proficient Levels

The pedagogical benefits of translation are even more significant at advanced levels as a tool to explore the complexities of the language and culture of texts that vary in type, perspective, and purpose. Many of my memories as a French language teacher come from teaching a bit of translation in class in the UK. After achieving a certain level of proficiency with the students, translation classes can show not only the translation process itself, but help students delve deeper into the meaning of words and ideas, as well as the diversity of interpretation at various levels and stages of comprehension and translation.

Literary Texts to Demonstrate the Diversity of Translation

One type of text that worked very well to demonstrate the diversity of interpretation is small literary texts. Poems and short stories are ideal, especially when we had access to a number of different translations of the same text. By studying several professional translations, students can point out which ideas had been interpreted in different ways and work backwards to find a better way of understanding the context and meaning of the text itself.


Translation Should Not Be the Focus of a Language Lesson

This exercise in itself already confirmed that a simple question such as “What does this word mean in _____ language?” can be very problematic. It also demonstrates that translation should not be the focus of any language lesson. Thinking about the direct comparison between two languages ​​leads us to over-simplification and ignoring possible gaps in meaning; two common mistakes that can be alleviated using translation as a pedagogical approach.

A Fantastic Opportunity to Find Out About the Translation Industry

In addition to learning about the diversity of interpretations and the complexity of languages, translation as a pedagogical tool gives students the skills they need to translate effectively. When those activities I mentioned are used in the classroom, it is usually the first time that students see and analyse hand-translated texts and compare them to the source text, side by side. This is a unique opportunity for the teacher to introduce the professional aspect of things behind the translation and discuss the requirements and challenges that are part of the translation area.

Don’t fear translation – Embrace it!

So while some language teachers still fear the use of translation in their lessons, in my experience, there are several benefits to incorporating translation into advanced adult classes. A well-planned activity using translation can deepen the understanding of languages, promoting appreciation of different opinions and interpretations, and educating students about the profession of a translator.

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