P is for PPP

16 01 2011

Another video blog:

T is for Translation

21 04 2010

During a talk on grammar teaching techniques, last week in Turkey, one participant queried my suggestion that translation could be a useful technique for raising awareness of similarities and differences between the students’ L1 and the target language. I went so far as to suggest that – with some structures (such as the future perfect) it could be the most economical way of presenting them. However, the participant felt (strongly) that encouraging learners to translate L1 forms into the L2 would cause negative transfer.

This led to an interesting discussion with other trainers and teachers, after the session, as to the current status of translation – specifically as a means of presenting grammar – on methodology courses, and prompted me to re-visit the entry in An A-Z of ELT. There I don’t exactly come out in favour of translation, but, in weighing up the pros and cons, I definitely give translation the last word. To quote:

Apart from being a skill in its own right, translation is also an aid to teaching and learning a second language. In this sense, translation has been central to some teaching methods, such as grammar translation, and frowned upon by others, such as the direct method. The reasons for not using translation in teaching include the following:

  • translation encourages a dependence on the L1, at the expense of the learner constructing an independent L2 system
  • translation encourages the notion of equivalence between languages, yet no two languages are exactly alike (although languages from the same language family may be similar in lots of respects)
  • the L1 system interferes with the development of the L2 system
  • translation is the “easy” approach to conveying meaning, and is therefore less memorable than approaches that require more mental effort, such as working out meaning from context
  • the “natural” way of acquiring a language is through direct experience and exposure, not through translation
  • translation is simply not feasible in classes of mixed nationalities, or where the teacher does not speak the learners’ L1.

On the other hand, the arguments for using translation in the classroom include:

  • new knowledge (e.g. of the L2) is constructed on the basis of existing knowledge (e.g. of the L1), and to ignore that is to deny learners a valuable resource
  • languages have more similarities than differences, and translation encourages the positive transfer of the similarities, as well as alerting learners to significant differences
  • translation is a time-efficient means of conveying meaning, compared, say, to demonstration, explanation, or working out meaning from context
  • learners will use translation, even if covertly, as a strategy for making sense of the L2, so it may as well be used as an overt tool
  • the skill of translation is an integral part of being a proficient L2 user, and contributes to overall pluralingualism
  • translation is a natural way of exploiting the inherent bilingualism of language classes, especially where the teacher is herself bilingual

The question is, do the pros outweight the cons – or should I have emphasised the negative factors more strongly?

T is for Text

14 12 2009

…specifically, using texts for grammar presentation.

In the A-Z there’s no mention of the value of using texts as a means for presenting grammar, neither under the entry for text nor for grammar teaching, an oversight I feel I should correct – especially in the light of the following exchange.

Just a week or so ago, I received this email, from a woman I’ll call Irena. (The text is reproduced with Irena’s permission):

I am a third-year English Language and Literature student at the Faculty of Philology in XXX,  and one of my elective courses this year is Methodology of ELT. We are using your book ( How to Teach Grammar) as our core book and, while it has been extremely useful so far, I do find myself in need of assistance.

Namely, I was supposed to micro-teach last Thursday in front of my class, but, no matter how hard I had tried, I could not prepare myself. My task was (and still is) to teach grammar from texts. Now I will have to do it this Thursday and I still have a hard time trying to prepare the lesson plan…

My idea is to teach Past Simple Tense because it is most easily demonstrated with the help of texts, but I am not sure how to actually put my ideas to work. Do I find a text and read it aloud and then ask my students if they can notice past tense verbs? Do I give them handouts? I know the text should not be long, so should I ask them to read it out loud? Which text should I choose? What kind of activity would be best to engage my students? What are the best exercises? And should I teach Past Simple Tense at all? I am really confused and, quite frankly, terrified of doing it. Not to mention I am still planless, and the micro-teaching has to occur in less than 2 days.

So I would appreciate any sort of help you can offer …

What advice would you give Irena?