24 December 2010

The problem with translation (from a student)

It doesn't take a teacher to realize that training students to translate doesn't produce proficiency. If you want to look into the SLA research behind why translation slows language processing so much (and if you are a teacher, you owe it to yourself to get this and let it revolutionize your methodology), start with this post. But for some lighter, shorter reading just look at what my student wrote for his evaluation of a listening proficiency exercise he did a couple of weeks ago.

My AP students have to interact in some way with Spanish outside of class once a week. They choose one of 19 options. It's a way for them to show me that, at this point, they have the self-motivation to find something they like to do with their Spanish outside of class (with as much freedom as I can allow and still get them to do a beneficial assignment). Then they report to me what they did, what they think they did well, and then what they need to work on. So "Teodosio" watched some videos on the internet about a theme park. He writes, "I need to work on listening instead of trying to translate. =("

Did you notice that he basically equates translating with not listening? At the very least he's revealing what all of us--and even our students--know: translating slows down language processing too much for listening comprehension to be significant. Listening comprehension reaches a significant level when the L2 word starts triggering the concept without having to route through the L1 to do so.

So why do we waste so much time asking our students to translate? Actually training them to do it?

Good question.

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