The Role of Translation in Language Teaching: Back to GT in ELT?

The Role of Translation in Language Teaching: Back to GT in ELT?

Anna Maria D'Amore (Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6615-3.ch008
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Abstract

With the development of approaches and methods in Modern Language teaching that favoured oral communication skills and advocated more “natural” methods of second/foreign language acquisition, methodology calling for translation in the classroom was shunned. Nonetheless, translation used as a resource designed to assist the student in improving his or her knowledge of the foreign language through reading comprehension exercises, contrastive analysis, and reflection on written texts continues to be practiced. By examining student performance in problem-solving tasks at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, this chapter aims to demonstrate the validity of “pedagogical translation” in ELT in Mexico, particularly at undergraduate level where it is an integral part of English reading courses in Humanities study programmes, not as an end in itself, but as a means to perfecting reading skills in a foreign language and furthermore as an aid for consolidating writing and communication skills in the student's first language.
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Introduction

Classical language teaching in Europe placed translation centre-stage in the teaching/learning process. With the development of approaches and methods in Modern Language teaching in Europe and beyond, which beginning in the 19th Century favoured oral communication skills and advocated more “natural” methods of second/foreign language acquisition, methodology calling for translation in the classroom was shunned. Nonetheless, translation used as a resource designed to assist the student in improving his or her knowledge of the foreign language through reading comprehension exercises, contrastive analysis and reflection on written texts continues to be practiced. This continued practice has led to translation gradually regaining ground in language teaching, a development also in part due to the emergence and consolidation of Translation Studies in recent decades, together with changing ideas in Applied Linguistics.

Innovation in other disciplines contributes to our understanding of translation and affects our teaching practice. Behavioural and electrophysiological data have demonstrated that native-language activation is an unconscious correlate of second-language comprehension and, therefore, that translation is an unconscious and inevitable element in foreign-language comprehension (Thierry & Wu, 2007). If this is the case, it is clear, then, that translation has never completely left the language classroom and in spite of the accusations of artificiality brought against the use of translation in language teaching, there have been important calls in recent years for its “rehabilitation” (Cook, 2010). Additionally, critics of dogmatic communicative approaches question the “naturalness” of classroom practices in general in language acquisition (Pintado Gutiérrez, 2012), thus undermining the case against translation, and there is evidence that translation has begun to be fostered again more explicitly, as a key aspect in communicative competence.

Translation as a language-learning activity in the foreign language classroom has been given many names since the days of medieval Scholasticism and the much vilified 19th Century Prussian Grammar-Translation methodologies, from general names such as “school translation”, “pedagogical translation” and “academic translation” to more recent terms in the current post-communicative, cognitive paradigm such as “act of translating” (Machida, 2011). Translation in English Language Teaching (ELT) is updated constantly through the incorporation of new technology, from paper-based and electronic handheld resources and specialized software to online platforms and virtual forums, all of which can be used to facilitate the “act of translating” in the teaching/ learning process. With the use of 21st Century technology, “old-fashioned” methods can be adapted so that students can prepare to read both ancient and contemporary texts.

By examining student performance in problem-solving tasks at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, using process research methods and drawing on developmental learning theory (cf Dam-Jensen & Heine, 2009), this chapter aims to demonstrate the validity and relevance of “pedagogical translation” in ELT in Mexico, particularly at undergraduate level where it is an integral part of English reading courses in many Humanities study programmes. In the Literature and Linguistics department in Zacatecas, translation is not explicitly taught as an end in itself, but rather as a means to perfecting reading skills in a foreign language. It is, furthermore, conceived as an aid for consolidating writing and communication skills in the student’s first language and, therefore, as an important component in the undergraduate programme.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pedagogical Translation: The use in a classroom of translation into the students’ native language as a means of facilitating foreign language learning.

Grammar-Translation Method (GT): A traditional method in which exercises in grammar and translation are carried out in order to develop reasoning capacity as well as reading ability so that students can read literature in a foreign language.

Problem-Solving Task: A task in which a student must recognize the nature of a problem and analyse it in order to propose strategies for its solution.

Process Research: Empirical research whose methods focus explicitly on processes in its observation in order to understand how and why phenomena occur and evolve.

Dialogue and Observation Report: Empirical documentation of student discussion regarding problems detected and solutions proposed, carried out with a view to enhancing future student performance.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): A style or method of language teaching that involves learning to communicate by interaction in the foreign language and which has interaction or communication as its ultimate aim.

English Reading for Literature and Linguistics (ERLL): Specialized English reading courses for undergraduate students of Literature and Linguistics, as opposed to students of a degree in foreign languages.

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