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Rebranding Translation


Abstract and Figures

Immersion ideologies long tried to banish L1 from additional-language teaching, and translation with it. Translation is now returning to the language classroom, however, bolstered by new ideas of what it can be and just a few empirical studies of what learning outcomes it can contribute to. This chapter looks back on the history of translation in additional-language teaching, with particular attention to the social contexts involved, the dominant ideologies of language learning, and the various types of translation used. The basic claim is that the exclusion of translation relied on the assumption of a monolingual community, and that this assumption necessarily relegated translation to a post-hoc checking activity. On the other hand, when the community is assumed to be multilingual, translation assumes a more central role as a set of socially useful skills and its conceptualization broadens into a range of dynamic communicative activities. This second frame is then further reinforced by the availability of online translation technologies, widely used but rarely taught. A second aspect of this history is the way in which ideologies have operated in the absence of controlled empirical research. A few new empirical results nevertheless indicate that communicative translation activities correlate with some improved learning outcomes. They might provide an occasion to improve on the past.
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Rebranding translation
Anthony Pym
The University of Melbourne
Based on a talk given at the LCNAU conference, Adelaide, November 2017.
Translating is coming back to additional-language teaching. This is a general trend that has
been going on for a few decades; it should be news to no one. Indeed, when I asked
attendants at the LCNAU conference in Adelaide who used translation in their language
teaching, the forest of raised hands was so thick that I suspect that, in the particular field of
language teaching in Australian universities, translation never really went away. The rest of
the world might have buried it under the ideals of various immersive and communicative
methods since the end of the nineteenth century, but perhaps not here. The question now
seems to be not whether translation should be used, but what kind of translation activities are
best suited to additional-language teaching (Königs asked the same question in the German
context in 2000).
Before responding to that question, let me seek a little inspiration in history. For
centuries prior to immersion ideologies, language teachers were using translation in their
classes. Were they all really so wrong?
A typology of translation activities
We know Roger Ascham used translation in his classes in the sixteenth century because he
tells us quite a lot about it in The Scholemaster (1579), self-described as the “plaine and
perfite way of teachying, to understand, write and speake, the Latin tonge”. A perfect method
seems worth following in some detail. After the instructor explains basic syntax and presents
a lexicon, a relatively easy Latin passage is presented and text-based teaching begins:
First, let him teach the childe, cherefullie and plainlie, the cause, and matter of the
letter: then, let him construe it into Englishe, so oft, as the childe may easilie carie
awaie the vnderstanding of it. Lastlie, parse it ouer perfitlie. (1579: 8)
So to teach children Latin in a “plain and perfect way”, you first write out a
translation for them? No, not quite. The learner’s initial understanding of the foreign here
seems to be through spoken exchange (“cherefullie” is not a written mode), an oral discussion
of words and meanings. Only then is that first understanding of the foreign concretized by a
“construal” in the target language, presumably spoken by the instructor – by which we might
understand a form of translation that includes explanations and probably fragments of the
start text. Following that, the teacher runs through the spoken rendition, again speaking. Then
the whole thing is repeated by the learner, speaking but not yet writing:
This done thus, let the childe, by and by, both construe and parse it ouer againe: so,
that it may appeare, that the childe douteth in nothing, that his master taught him
This privileging of spoken exchange is perhaps motivated, since the text in question is
by Cicero, the archetypical orator. Yet the perfect method is supposed to be general in
application. Only then, after three or so spoken treatments of the text, is a written rendition
sought, along with first mention of the verb to translate and the presence of paper:
After this, the childe must take a paper booke, and sitting in some place, where no
man shall prompe him, by him self, let him translate into Englishe his former lesson.
There is only one learner, of course, given the exclusive nature of sixteenth-century
education. And the learner is not necessarily a man, despite the pronouns: Ascham’s most
famous student, from 1548 to 1550, was Elizabeth Tudor, future queen. This learner is left to
invent their own English translation; no model translation is in sight. And she is working on a
substantial piece of text, rather than decontextualized words or phrases. The method
Then shewing it to his master, let the master take from him his latin booke, and
ppausing an houre, at the least, then let the childe translate his owne Englishe into
latin againe, in an other paper booke.
So the Latin text is taken away and then, at least an hour later, the learner has to back-
translate from English into Latin, again in writing. In this case there is indeed a model
translation, Cicero’s Latin, and the exercise would seem to have more to do with memorizing
that text rather than inventing a rendition. That memorization then becomes a product to be
When the childe bringeth it, turned into latin, the master must compare it
with Tullies booke, and laie them both togither: and where the childe doth well, either
in chosing, or true placing of Tullies wordes, let the master praise him, and saie here
ye do well.
Affirmative pedagogy, of course: no scolding of errors, since “there is no such whetstone, to
sharpen a good witte, and encourage a will to learnyng, as is praise” (ibid.).
Translation works both ways here, into and from English, and is informed by several
purposes: first, understanding in spoken exchange and a spoken rendition in English, then
written expression in English, and finally, yes, text-based memorization of the start text. Of
these three, the translation into English is specifically designed to improve the learner’s
capacity for expression, and this purpose is recommended for any vernacular: “what togne
soever he doth use”.
These various types and uses of translation might be schematized as follows:
1. Initial construal, in spoken exchange, most probably mixing the two languages
concerned. Note that the learner here is already able to write; they might be aged
more than 12; there is no suggestion of immersion in an experience where the
additional language is used exclusively. It is implicitly recognized that internalized or
“mental translation” is one of the ways the learner is going to understand the L2 text
2. L1 translation (classically known as “version” and sometimes as “direct translation”),
in written mode, going into the learner’s strongest language in order not just to show
that the foreign text has been understood, but also to develop expressive resources in
that language. As such, there is not necessarily any one model translation to be
attained in this mode, in keeping with what is elsewhere recognized as the
indeterminacy of translation (from Quine 1960).
3. L2 translation (classical “prose”, also misleadingly called “inverse translation”) is
here used as a written learning exercise based on memory, but this need not be so.
Prose also involved original composition in the L2, and translation into the additional
language is, in our century, more than a pedagogical necessity for many of the
world’s smaller languages and for those where there are not enough L1 speakers to
handle the demand (as is the case with Chinese, Japanese and Korean, for example,
along with European languages with smaller numbers of speakers).
Beyond Ascham’s particular circumstances, one might add two further modes of
translation that are common enough in the literature:
4. Checking translation, in either direction, is when translation exercises are used as a
check on prior acquisition. Ascham’s two translation directionalities would indeed
appear to be working in this away, and one can extend the category to all the tests and
exams where translation is used to check that non-translational skills (such as
(grammar and usage) have been acquired.
5. Translation criticism should necessarily arise in an activity with more than one
learner in the group, as different versions are compared and commented on. An ideal
moment could be where two or more learners disagree about the best rendition, enter
into debate between themselves, and discover at some point that their arguments need
technical terms to describe translation, if not some useful theoretical concepts.
6. Full translation, which really deserves a better name (non-pedagogical?, extramural
translation?), would then be what learners do once translation skills have been fully
acquired. Mary Tudor went on to translate major texts from Latin, French and Italian
(see Elizabeth I, 2009), not as learning exercises but as translations to be read and
used by those around her (including, for example, the first chapter of
Calvin’s Institution de la Religion Chrestienne, rendered just five years after she had
acquired translation skills from Ascham). This would be an application of Ascham’s
method, although it is certainly not the only application: Elizabeth spoke in French,
Italian and Latin to foreign emissaries, and gave extemporaneous speeches in Latin on
visits to Oxford and Cambridge. Translation skills serve more than translation.
There are at least those six things that can be done with translation. And there are
many more: just get any repertoire of activities for communicative language teaching and add
another language to each scene (cf. González Davies 2004). Inventing translation activities is
not hard. A more difficult task is to say why the effort might be worth the candle.
A potted history of debates
A common story is that translation was used all the time in the bad old days when classical
languages were being learned: students would have learned the additional language by doing
no more than writing boring translations from and to it, without communicative context and
with all kinds of interference of one language in the other. That translation-based
methodology would then have been unthinkingly dragged across and applied to the teaching
of modern languages under the name of “grammar translation”. Somewhere near the end of
the nineteenth century, epiphany then occurred: teachers started discovering that languages
have to be learned through immersion in spoken communication, as opposed to the bilingual
scene of written translation. And variants on such immersion and communicative methods
have just been getting better and better ever since.
There are several things wrong with that narrative, and indeed with the counter-
narrative that would have a mindless century-respecting pendulum swinging back and forth,
for and then against translation in additional language learning (so Kelly 1969). I have taken
some time to look at the main nineteenth-century textbooks used for teaching French,
German and English as additional languages in Europe and the United States (the survey is in
Pym 2016a), analyzing them in much the same way as I have tackled Ascham above: who
was being taught, at what level, for what purpose, and in what way. My general finding,
echoing that of Siefert (2013), is that there was basically no such thing as “grammar
translation” as single orthodoxy – the term was coined après coup, by detractors of
translation near the end of the nineteenth century. Several other points come to light:
- All the commercial textbooks claim to teach the additional language in the shortest
time and in the best possible way, in keeping with the marketing principles used at
least since Ascham, with not much change over the years. The early major bestseller,
Meidinger, claimed that “learning from rules is the shortest and safest way to learn
French” (1783/1799: 2, my translation here and throughout), so translation was used
to illustrate grammatical rules. A little later, though, Seidenstücker, another bestseller,
claimed his method was “imitating, as closely as possible, the natural way in which
children come to gain knowledge and use their mother tongue” (1811/1833: iii),
although he also made extensive use of translation as a learning activity. So
commerce was served by contradictory arguments, and translation activities were
used right across that spectrum.
- All the textbooks that use translation as some kind of central learning activity are
designed for learners above the age of twelve or so, where mental translation was
likely to be involved in initial construal. Even the methods that purported to base
themselves on the way young children learn were not designed to teach young
- There are actually very few textbooks that do not allow space for spoken exchange, in
addition to or alongside the written exercises. There are indeed some, but they seem
to have been catering for the growing market in self-learning, and translation was
indeed one thing that buyers could do at home by themselves.
- The major innovation in the German textbooks from the beginning of the nineteenth
century was careful attention to inductive learning, in keeping with the principles of
Prussian New Humanism. This meant the learner was invited to discover grammar
through contact with the language, with translation exercises being used to introduce
points of comparative grammar – thus teaching about differences between languages
rather than inviting interference.
- The pedagogical progression in translation activities meant moving from simple to
hard, with various checks on acquisition along the way. This involved using
sequences of quite different translation activities. It also meant using decontextualized
phrases and sentences at the initial levels, sometimes with quite comic results. Yet it
would be unfair to characterize a whole method on the basis of such examples alone.
Of particular interest here is the way in which the inductive approach meant
integrating translation as a kind of written code-switching. This produces variants rather like
the spoken exchanges that Butzkamm (1980) calls the “sandwich technique”: L2 and L1 are
alternated, as in “You’ve skipped a line. Du hast eine Zeile übersprungen. You’ve skipped a
line.” Seidenstücker (1811/1833: 2) uses techniques like the following, where the word-for-
word vocabulary is given prior to the translation exercise:
Vous, ihr, avez, habt, livre, Buch, acheté, gekauft
Vous avez un bon père et une bonne mère. Avez-vous un livre? Le livre est bon. Nous
avons acheté un bon livre. Le livre que vous avez acheté, est bon. […] (1811/1833: 2)
Yes, the sentences to be translated are decontextualized and rigorously non-authentic, but
they only occur at the initial stages of the method.
Ploetz (1848) uses italics to indicate the grammar point that the student should focus
on when translating, in a book that makes heavy use of translation and appears to be designed
for self-teaching:
Nos soldats ont combattu contre vos ennemis. (Lesson 13)
He also gives clues pointing to the grammatical differences between the languages, either by
inserting notes or by adding numbers to indicate the desired target-language order:
Heute habe ich (Frz. ich habe) zwei Briefe dem Briefträger gegeben. (Lesson 30)
Hat man nicht eine 2herrliche 1Aussicht…? (Lesson 41)
Another technique used to much the same effect is to make translation exercises
easier by bending the start text to fit the target-language grammar. Here is an example from
Ollendorff, where the English speaker is learning French:
Have you the bread? – Yes, Sir, I have the bread. – Have you your bread? – Yes, I
have my bread. (1836/1846: 10)
Spoken English would perhaps be happier with “Do you have the bread?” or “Have you got
the bread?”, but here “Have you the bread?” is preferred because it is more likely to suggest
the French “Avez-vous le pain?” (which could also be formulated in several different ways).
This bending of language is quite common in the translation-based textbooks; it is one of the
main features picked up in the later criticisms of translation activities. Once again, though,
the bending and decontextualizing were mainly at the initial stages of the courses. More
advanced lessons gave longer texts to be translated, allowing the learner to bring together
numerous acquired skills.
As you go through the literature, you become aware not just of the many different
ways translation activities were used, but also of the variety of arguments that were mobilized
for and against translation. As noted above, diametrically opposed educational philosophies
could nonetheless justify translation. One that stands out from the ruck is Claude Marcel’s
insistence that, for learners who have already acquired written competence in L1, translation
is actually the most natural approach, since it fulfils the role that immersion plays in the
child’s learning of that L1:
The native expressions addressed to [the child learning L1] are always accompanied
by tones, looks, and gestures, which explain them at once. The translation attached to
the text [by the advanced learner of L2] interprets the foreign words at once, as the
language of action interprets the native [language]. (1853: 93)
With translation, the L2 “ought, therefore, be understood by the learner in less time
than the native language by the child” (1853: 93). That is, translation can save time, which is
precisely what good marketing required.
Marcel later assumes that L1 acquisition progresses inductively through
understanding speech, speaking, understanding writing, then writing (1867/1869: 11, 14). In
L2 acquisition, on the other hand, the proposed order is reading, hearing, speaking and
writing (1867/1869: 22). In this way, Marcel attaches the advantages of his initial translations
explicitly to reading (the first phase), then includes two-way translation exercises of the
checking kind in his section on writing. That is, translation plays two quite different roles, at
two quite different stages of the learner’s progression.
This is one of the insights that seem to have been forgotten. The experimental use of
translation was interrupted, in some countries for many generations, as another kind of
experience intervened.
Immersion against translation
In the second half of the nineteenth century, criticisms of translation came from two quarters,
involving two quite different kinds of arguments.
The first was from German immigrants in the United States who had learned English
as adults, basically through immersion in American society. If they could do it, then so could
everyone else. In 1866 Gottlieb Heness opened a German-language school where young boys
spoke German for four hours a day, five days a week, and they did indeed learn German very
quickly. Heness claimed his students could speak fluently in 36 weeks, “a shorter time than
any other method of study” (1867/1884: 7).
Heness’s basic claim was then picked up, schematized, and successfully marketed by
Maximilian Berlitz, albeit with one major difference: whereas Heness had restricted his
method to young learners, since “it is very difficult for the adult to understand and speak
without translating” (Heness 1867/1884: 10), Berlitz offered the method to everyone. His
marketing strategy recognizes that the best way to learn a language is actually to travel to the
country where it is spoken, but attending Berlitz classes can do the same thing more cheaply
and in a more organized way:
Instruction by the Berlitz method, is to the student what the sojourn in a foreign land
is to a traveller. He hears and speaks on the language he wishes to learn, as if he were
in a foreign country. He has however the advantage that the language has been
methodologically and systematically arranged for him. (1888/1916: 4)
This “as if he were in a foreign country” means that translation is radically excluded
from the Berlitz method, among other reasons because “knowledge of a foreign tongue,
acquired by means of translation, is necessarily defective and incomplete; for there is by no
means for every word of one language, the exact equivalent in the other” (1888/1916: 4). For
the purposes of justifying his argument, Berlitz reduces translation to a word-for-word
replacement exercise. This strategy was to become quite common.
The second main criticism of translation came from European academics who insisted
that the classroom was a space where students should be taught to speak, rather than just
write. The founders of what became known as the “Reform Movement” were not gratuitously
phoneticians: Jespersen, Passy and Sweet. That said, only Jespersen radically excluded
translation, and he did so in two contradictory ways. First, like Berlitz, he adopted a
particularly myopic definition of translation, seen as a one-to-one pairing that hides the
specificity of L2 and which embraces no explanatory elements. Taking the example of the
many ways of rendering the English pronoun “it” in German (according to gender and case),
Jespersen regrets that the learner who relies on any one translation will apparently fail to see
those differences (1901/1904: 135). Second, he argues that there is little social need for
translation: “while there is […] a constantly increasing number of people who need to
express their thoughts in a foreign language, there are really very few who will ever have any
occasion to exercise skill in translation” (Jespersen 1901/1904: 53). If you are not going to
become a professional translator, forget about translation.
So translation was either too simple to convey useful linguistic knowledge, or too
complex to be used in everyday life. Many language teachers would seem to have agreed.
Who needs translation?
Now, who might need to learn to translate? An example is actually given by Heness when he
recounts how one of his students, having spoken German all day at school, replied when his
mother asked him what he had been learning. The boy “began to stammer, unable to speak
intelligibly”, then confessed: “‘Mother, if you will let me talk in German, I will tell you all;
and he gave a full account of the day’s adventures in German” (Heness 1867/1884: 6).
Heness presents the story in order to illustrate the success of his method, apparently for a land
where everyday life would require no mediating bilinguals, no movement of content between
languages, and perhaps no translators. Others, no doubt including the boy’s perplexed
mother, might wonder whether extreme immersion will really save the world.
For almost all the nineteenth-century textbooks, languages are attached to national
cultures, which are located in separate countries, and so an additional language is routinely
called a “foreign language”. That is why immersion through travel was presented as an ideal
way of learning a language: one crossed a border and went from one immersive space to
another, as was the experience of the immigrant (who became the instructor in the United
States) and the “grand tour” (for the rich, and the ideal that poorer learners were condemned
to imitate by paying Berlitz). That is also the way the European phoneticians justified their
“direct” method: the learner imitates the crossing of a national border.
That said, when the German immigrants began to draw on their own experience, they
occasionally recognized a rather different geometry. Heness’s justification for his pedagogy
actually goes back further, to his experience in Germany when going to school meant
progressing from a regional Bavarian variety to Hochdeutsch – not from L1 to L2, but from
something like L1 to L1.5. Similarly, his American students could be immersed in German
because it was not entirely foreign to them: they were going from one cognate language to
another, progressing through the overlaps. The application of nationalist immersion ideology
did all it could to eclipse those overlaps, as we see in the case of the stuttering schoolboy, but
it was nonetheless formulated from within a social space where the different languages were
simultaneously present. Had the boy learned through translation, he should have been able to
communicate proficiently within that multilingual space. Elizabeth Tudor, who was taught
through translation, was able to move quite successfully through the multilingual spaces that
constituted her court.
Who needs translations? One kind of answer concerns the traveler or the young child,
and quite another pertains to language learners who can write and who become part of
multilingual, multicultural societies, not as professional mediators but as citizens negotiating
the linguistic engagements of everyday life. If such societies are to be inclusive, mediation of
many kinds is necessary, and immersion need not be a priority.
In short, multilingual societies need translation. It is for this precise reason that the
Common European Framework Reference for Languages recognizes four kinds of language
activities through which learners acquire skills: reception, production, interaction and
mediation, with mediation largely being the translation of oral or written texts (Council of
Europe 2001: 15).
So what is translation?
As might be clear from this rapid overview of the last few centuries, one of the main ways to
argue against translation is to see it as just one thing, mostly either as a simple language-
replacement exercise (of little learning value) or as a complex professional activity (needed
by very few people), with nothing in between. Both those reductive definitions are actually
present in the 2018 Companion Volume to the Common European Framework Reference,
where everything possible is done to keep mediation from being “reduced to translation”,
along with repeated insistence that professional translators and interpreters use skills that are
far beyond those accessible to normal language learners (Council of Europe 2018: 35, 107,
113). The battle is far from over.
The history of teaching methods can nevertheless show that translation involves much
more than word-for-word at one end, then specialized magic at the other. So, too, can
minimal attention to what the trainers of professional translators have been doing for the past
70 years or so. This concerns not just the various complex models of translator competence
(which unfortunately tend to reinforce the idea that translation is only for a few highly gifted
specialists) but can more specifically draw on the various typologies of translation solutions,
which would result from the discursive strategies that translation can entail.
One such typology, drawn from many previous attempts, is presented in Table 1,
which is designed to encourage learners to consider the many ways that translation problems
can be solved. (If there is no particular problem, then the translator is in “cruise mode”, at the
top of the table.) Solving problems can be deceptively easy at the most abstract level: you
copy some kind of expression, you change some kind of expression, or you put something
else (all that in the left-hand column). Each of those basic strategies then includes some
general solution types (the middle column), which in turn can be broken down into open-
ended lists of tricks that translators can and do use, depending on appropriate communicative
circumstances. Any learner who can do all those things appropriately will be able not just to
translate, but also to mediate effectively between languages in a very wide number of
Table 1. A typology of translation solution types (cf. Pym 2016b: 220)
Cruise mode (normal use of language skills, reference resources, parallel texts, intuition anything prior to
bump mode so no special solutions are needed)
Copying Words
Copying sounds
Copying morphology
Copying script …
Copying Structure
Copying prosodic features
Copying fixed phrases
Copying text structure …
Expression Change
Perspective Change
Changing sentence focus
Changing semantic focus
Changing voice
Renaming an object …
Density Change
Generalization / Specification
Explicitation / Implicitation
Multiple Translation…
Joining sentences
This is not the place to elaborate further on the solution types. Let the table suffice to
illustrate that translation is not just one thing.
Principles for a pedagogy of communicative translation
The message for language educators has to be that translation is no simple; it involves a wide
range of transformational skills that can be used to do more than translate in a word-for-word
sense. It could also quite happily be called “mediation”, if that makes the educationalists
happier and as long as the activity is based on texts of some kind – translation should retain
the advantage of making learners pay close attention to written or spoken utterances, actual
language use, and to construe meanings carefully from there. (This might be a Protestant
virtue, sticking to prior text, as opposed to a sense of mediation that basically involves telling
stories with whatever means available, but I am not here to argue theology.)
If translation is to be brought back into additional language learning in any general
way, the arguments have to be rather more astute than simply pointing out that the bad old
days were not really so bad. One argument is to insist on the range of translation solutions
and the way different translation activities can be suit pedagogical progression, to counter the
characterization of translation as “too simple or too complex”. Another argument is to point
out that translation can be more than a checking exercise: it is always a communicative
activity, with the adjective in lights, since “communicative” is the word that language
educators all over the world rate most highly in their descriptions of teaching methodologies
(see Pym, Malmkjær and Gutiérrez 2013). So let’s take their favorite word and apply it to
What would a manifesto for communicative translation look like? Here are some
possible principles. Many of them draw on the lessons of history, while others address the
problems of our present:
1. All translation is communication.
Translation is communication when it reaches a receiver (in written or spoken mode, since
both are concerned here); it is communication when performed in a role play setting or
similar exercise; and it is also communication when used to check on acquisition, since it
communicates the acquisition level to the instructor. In short, translation is always
communicative, in many different ways.
Cutting sentences
New level of expression
New place in text (notes, paratexts) …
Cultural Correspondence
Corresponding idioms
Corresponding units of measurement, currency,
Relocation of culture-specific referents …
Material Change
Text Tailoring
Correction / censorship / updating
Omission of material
Addition of material …
2. One pedagogy serves both the spoken and written modes.
The professional distinction that is made between spoken translation (“interpreting”) and
written translation (“translation”) is not useful in the learning of additional languages and
should be dispensed with. Learners should be speaking and writing all the way through, as
they have been doing for at least a few centuries.
3. The spoken is the primary situation.
As seen in Ascham, the pedagogical use of written translation can and should begin from
spoken translation, along with whatever other kinds of spoken checking operations might be
desirable. This principle also applies to the training of professional translators: if they start
from spoken interaction, they instinctively break with the literalism that most beginners
assume is required in translation. When you translate out loud, there is less linguistic
interference, particularly when you are communicating with a person who is right there in
front you.
4. Translation is for more than professionals.
There has been a long, unspoken pact between translation scholars and translation
professionals, where the former use the latter as a model to be reproduced, and the latter
occasionally allow themselves to be studied in that light. Any such agreement should be
broken. Translation skills can be used by anyone, since linguistic inclusiveness and
interpersonal development start at grassroots level, in everyday life. There will always be
high-risk events where highly-paid professionals are required, but translation should be seen
as a social activity open to anyone who is interested and motivated. There will always be
opera singers (I hope), but everyone can still learn to sing (better).
5. Online technologies are always integrated.
These days translation is open to all because anyone can use free online machine translation,
with rapidly improving results for many language pairs. Since anyone can access the
technology, everyone should be taught about the limits of machine translation and the ways it
can be integrated into postediting processes, with or without translation memory suites. Like
mental translation, which has always been present but has rarely been recognized as part of
the learning process, machine translation has to be explained and integrated into all additional
language learning, from the beginning.
6. The full range of solutions is taught.
Once they start to explore the limits of machine translation and the possible ways to improve
it, learners tend to find that what the machine offers is rather limited in terms of translation
solutions. It rarely ventures beyond the odd change of perspective and density, with the rest
remaining as literal as possible (although there are curious omissions in neural outputs).
Going beyond the machine thus means incorporating solutions at the top and bottom ends of
Table 1, importing words and structures when desired, risking complex transformations, and
editing content where necessary. Students should progressively be coaxed to a stage where
they can play with the full orchestra of solutions.
7. Success is judged in terms of communication, not just equivalence.
So what is a good translation? Many different criteria come into play in different kinds of
activities, so there can be no one-size-fits-all response. Each activity has its learning
objective, and that is where success is to be judged. More important, simple backward-
looking equivalence to the start text will often not be enough: we are no longer in the
business of memorizing Cicero. Success more generally means fulfilling the function
required in the specific communication situation, as has been accepted in translation studies
for several decades now.
Together, those seven principles might invite educators to rethink translation activities
in communicative terms. And they should do so across the board, both in additional-language
teaching and in the training of professional translators.
What is to be discovered?
The role of translation in additional language learning is something that also requires serious
research. Over the years I have had the honor of co-supervising three doctoral theses on the
general topic, as well as leading a project for the European Commission. These few forays
might serve as indications of the kind of research that can be done, in addition to the studies
reviewed in Pym et al. (2013).
Peverati (2014) and our European Commission project (Pym et al. 2013) both focus
on the opinions and attitudes of teachers concerning the use of translation in the additional-
language classroom, both using the same questionnaire. Peverati finds that the transferability
of translation-related learning (i.e. the degree to which skills acquired in translation activities
can be used in other language tasks) is to some extent thwarted in the Italian context by
teachers’ conceptions of translation as being no more than a tool for formalistic, contrastive
language work. Pym et al. (2013: 121-122) find that the resistance to translation differs in
each country but is particularly pronounced in France and Spain, which happen to be among
the countries with the lowest language-learning scores in Europe.
Ayvazyan (2017) presents the results of an experiment with 61 university-level
learners of English in Catalonia, with translation activities and non-translation activities
being alternated week by week. It is found that the use of translation activities correlates with
a higher degree of student-initiated in-class interaction and thus a more pedagogically
inclusive learning environment.
Artar (2017) reports on an experiment carried out in Turkey where 30 advanced
learners of English were divided into two groups, one of which did translation activities while
the other did non-translation activities. After eight weeks, the scores of the translation group
were significantly higher for writing activities, although there was no significant difference in
the scores for spoken activities.
There are also ad hoc observations that merit some future research. For example, in
my experience as a trainer of professional translators, I have regularly found that heritage
speakers with relatively symmetrical bilingualism fare worse in translation tests than do late
learners with more asymmetrical bilingualism. Other translator trainers have made similar
observations. It could be hypothesized that late learners of L2 grasp the language through
mapping operations that are similar to those activated in the translation process, and that
heritage speakers tend to have had fewer occasions to develop mapping operations to the
same degree. Further, late learners of L2 have relied on written images of the language,
mapping written words, whereas early learners have a spoken experience of L2, less given to
the written kind of mapping. This could mean that written translation skills are eminently
transferrable, but that they might not be of the same nature as spoken production skills. As
mentioned, Artar (2017) found that translation activities aided written performances but did
not significantly affect spoken language skills.
Some of these findings obviously support a rebranding as communicative translation,
as does the historical overview offered above. I am not drawing principles out of thin air. The
more important point, though, is that ideas about translation should be open to empirical
testing, without pretense to any absolute truth, neither for nor against. There are empirical
studies that identify some beneficial effects of translation activities, and there are none, to my
knowledge, that support the unthinking exclusion of translation from additional-language
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Full-text available
The growth in translator-training institutions since the early 1990s has obliged many language teachers to teach translation skills and some translators to pick up teaching skills. When these two needs are combined with the use of translation activities in additional-language learning, the global demand for training in the teaching of translation is considerable, especially in countries where the growth in these needs is still recent. In an attempt to address this demand, a course in translator education was offered at the University of Melbourne and was included in both the Master of Translation and the Master of Applied Linguistics, which deals with language education. The two learning groups brought different but complementary backgrounds to the course and were to some extent able to teach each other through tandem activities: the students with training in applied linguistics were to teach the translators about teaching, while the students trained as translators would ideally teach the teachers about translation. In practice, however, the composition and aims of the two student groups were far more mixed than were the best-laid plans of theorists.
Full-text available
There are different attitudes towards the use of translation in foreign language teaching, which are often split between two extremes. This paper will aim to present the positive views on the role of translation within language degrees in general, and in particular in those situations when there is a lack of nation-wide professional schools and university courses specialized in translator training. As a contribution to a positive perspective of pedagogical translation at university level, the paper will reveal the results of a survey conducted among the undergraduate students from the language departments at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Montenegro. The survey had a goal to find out about the students' views on the role of translation exercises in acquiring both language competence and translation competence.
Full-text available
Renewed attention to the role of translation in language teaching raises questions about the historical causes of anti-translation discourse among contemporary language educationalists. The mainstream narrative sees the nineteenth century as being dominated by " grammar translation " , whereas the twentieth century saw progressive enlightenment from immersion and communicative methods. A survey of the main textbooks nevertheless suggests that most methods in the nineteenth century actually mixed spoken practice in L2 with various forms of translation practice between L1 and L2, to the extent that a monochromatic " grammar translation " is a simplification invented après coup by its opponents. The arguments against translation were initially based on a Romanticism of natural acquisition, somehow assuming that all learners are infants, but were then inspired by the experience of immigrants, particularly in the United States, who reflected on their particular mode of immersion. By the end of the nineteenth century, the vigorous commercialization of the immigrant experience, notably by Berlitz, contrasted with the more balanced approach of the Reform Movement, which was building on a European tradition where spoken communication and translation both found places in foreign-language teaching.
This paper examines the useful role that translation may have in L2 learning. Most language teaching approaches discourage any appreciable recourse to translation. Nevertheless, translation serves to focus attention on structural differences between the first and second languages that composing directly in the L2 cannot do in the same explicit manner. In addition, there exists psycholinguistic evidence for certain cognitive advantages associated with the translation process. Experiments carried out with subtitling and concurrent exposure to an audio track reveal the particular effectiveness of pairing LI dialogue with L2 script. Translation may have a similar effect. It is proposed that the "elaborateness of processing" view in memory research supports the suggestion that translation may lead to a more elaborate and therefore more durable memory encoding.
Many “translation solutions” (often called “procedures,” “techniques,” or “strategies”) have been proposed over the past 50 years or so in French, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Czech, and Slovak. This book analyzes, criticizes and compares them, proposing a new list of solutions that can be used in training translators to work between many languages. The book also traces out an entirely new history of contemporary translation studies, showing for example how the Russian tradition was adapted in China, how the impact of transformational linguistics was resisted, and how scholarship has developed an intercultural metalanguage over and above the concerns of specific national languages. The book reveals the intensely political nature of translation theory, even in its most apparently technical aspects. The lists were used to advance the agendas of not just linguistic nationalisms but also state regimes – this is a history in which Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all played roles, Communist propaganda and imperialist evangelism were both legitimized, Ukrainian advances in translation theory were forcefully silenced in the 1930s, the Cold War both stimulated the application of transformational grammar and blocked news of Russian translation theory, French translation theory was conscripted into the agenda of Japanese exceptionalism, and much else. Table Of Contents Introduction 1. Charles Bally and the Missing Equivalents 2. Vinay and Darbelnet Hit the Road 3. A Tradition in Russian and Environs 4. A Loh Road to China 5. Spontaneous Combustion in Central Europe? 6. Cold War Dalliance with Transformational Grammar 7. Forays into Romance 8. Meanwhile Back in German 9. Disciplinary Corrections 10. Going Japanese 11. The Proof of the Pudding is in the Classroom 12. A Typology of Translation Solutions for Many Languages Postscript: The Flaw in the Dream References - See more at:
A comprehensive account of the origin and development of the basic contributions to the field of language instruction is thematically developed in this text. Major sections treat: (1) methodology, including the teaching of meaning, grammar, and pronunciation; (2) linguistic habit formation concerning speech, reading, and writing; (3) curriculum development; (4) articulation; (5) instructional media; (6) psychology, linguistics, and language teaching; and (7) the effect of language teaching theories on the public and the teaching profession. Numerous illustrations, a bibliography, and a subject and author index are provided. (RL)
The Role of Translation in Foreign-Language Teaching. Doctoral thesis
  • Pınar Artar
Artar, Pınar. 2017. The Role of Translation in Foreign-Language Teaching. Doctoral thesis. Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Available at Ascham, Roger. 1579. The Scholemaster. London: John Daye.
Communicative translation in foreign-language teaching and learning. Doctoral thesis
  • Nune Ayvazyan
Ayvazyan, Nune. 2017. Communicative translation in foreign-language teaching and learning. Doctoral thesis. Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Available at
1888/1916. The Berlitz Method for Teaching Modern Languages
  • Maximilian Berlitz
Berlitz, Maximilian. 1888/1916. The Berlitz Method for Teaching Modern Languages. English Part. Revised American Edition, New York: Berlitz.