Scholarly article on topic 'Translation and the Contemporary Language Teacher'

Translation and the Contemporary Language Teacher Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Ilknur Pekkanli

Abstract Due to the point that translation is still a controversial issue in foreign language teaching and also with respect to the fact that translation remains a significant component in various foreign language teaching programs, the present study attempts to investigate the importance of translation in foreign language learning and teaching. The present study is twofold: The first aim is to present a literary review of the role and benefits of translation in foreign language development and the second aim is to discover English Language Teaching (ELT) teacher candidates’ perceptions of the translation activity as an instrument for assisting foreign language learning development. A questionnaire consisting of 15 items was administered to the participants and the data were statistically analysed

Academic research paper on topic "Translation and the Contemporary Language Teacher"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 (2012) 955 - 959 —

WCES 2012

Translation and the contemporary language teacher

Ilknur Pekkanli

_Uludag University, Faculty of Education, Bursa, 16059, Turkey_

Abstract

Due to the point that translation is still a controversial issue in foreign language teaching and also with respect to the fact that translation remains a significant component in various foreign language teaching programs, the present study attempts to investigate the importance of translation in foreign language learning and teaching. The present study is twofold: The first aim is to present a literary review of the role and benefits of translation in foreign language development and the second aim is to discover English Language Teaching (ELT) teacher candidates' perceptions of the translation activity as an instrument for assisting foreign language learning development. A questionnaire consisting of 15 items was administered to the participants and the data were statistically analysed.

© 2012 Published by Else vier Ltd. S electi on and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu Keywords: Translation; language learning; teacher candidate.

1. Introduction: Translation in Language Learning

With the rise of communicative and natural approaches to foreign language teaching, classical language teaching methods, notably the grammar-translation method, comprising of tasks and techniques based on translation were criticized simply because of the assumption that the first language can interfere with the second language and that language learners should focus on form rather than function. For many years "in the current most popular Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach, the target language is used during authentic, functional communicative activities, and students' native language has no particular role in the classroom. Many CLT teachers maintain that the best way for learners to achieve native-like control of the target language is to think in that language rather than to translate or reprocess the target language into their mother tongue (Liao: 2006; 191).

At this point, the view that translation is interdictive to communicative characteristics can be scrutinized by investigating what "communicative competence" refers to. In the field of second language acquisition communicative competence refers to the ability to use language meaningfully at all stages of language acquisition. In this field, prominent researcher Savignon (1997; 40-47) describes communicative competence as having the following four components; grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence. Shortly defined grammatical competence is the mastery of the linguistic code, the recognition of the lexical, morphological, syntactic and phonological features of a language and manipulation these features in order to constitute words and sentences. The knowledge and understanding of the social rules of language use is referred to as sociolinguistic competence. Discourse competence refers to the ability to interpret a series of sentences or utterances in order to form a meaningful whole and to be able to form coherent texts in a given context.

* Ilknur Pekkanli. Tel.: +90 224 2942265. Fax.: +90 224 2942199 E-mail address: ilknurp@uludag.edu.tr

ELSEVIER

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.05.230

And finally, strategic competence can be shortly referred to as the ability to solve communication problems with strategies used to compensate for the factors limiting communication. Considering Savignon's (1997) definition of communicative competence, there are researchers adhering to the point that translation is a communicative activity and that it assists in the development of the learners communicative competenceThe following researchers' are only a few encapsulating this view. For example, Stulajterova (2006) states that the reason why translation is, even today, ignored by many teachers is because teachers often feel that translation involves no oral interaction and therefore is not a communicative activity, and that the usage of the mother tongue is undesirable. However, this researcher also notes that translation is a communicative activity because it naturally invites speculation and discussion because the teacher can select material illustrating particular aspects of language which the students have difficulty and can overcome these difficulties by seeing the link and usage through working in the mother tongue. In another investigation, Colina (1999; 31) asks the question "should translation be described as a type of communicative interaction?" And answers this question with the following statement, "Although the translator did not provide the meaning contained in the ST (source text) he/she is responsible for the interpretation of ST meaning, which involves the negotiation and expression of meaning in accordance with task specifications, translational conventions, and target language conventions (see ibid.)." As a result, Colina (1999; 31) states that here the communicative goal of translation is accomplished because the translator is attempting to fulfill the particular communicative purpose of the person who had left the message. In addition, translation assists second language acquisition because it uses authentic materials, is interactive, learner-centred, and promotes learner autonomy (Mahmoud; 2006). While the domain of foreign language learning has shown that though there have been defensive voices of few linguists and methodologists recognizing the importance of translation as a means of language learning, still very little attention have been given to the role of translation as either a means or an end of learning a foreign language. And due to the point that translation is still a controversial issue in foreign language teaching and also with respect to the fact that translation remains a significant component in various foreign language teaching programs, the present study attempts to investigate the importance of translation in foreign language learning and teaching. The overall goal of the present study is to display to language teachers and teacher trainers the invaluable contributions that translation can make to foreign language development.

With this view mind, and also taking into consideration the following statement expressed by Ashouri and Fotovatnia (2010), "EFL learners and teachers have different perspectives toward translation and its use in their learning and teaching activities. While most teachers ignore the role of translation in EFL learning, learners on the other hand insist on a positive role of translation in their learning (Politzer 1983; O'Malley et al. 1985b; Chamot et al.1987, as cited in Ashouri and Fotovatnia: 2010; 228)," the present study aims to address this gap by attempting to discover ELT teacher candidates' perceptions on the importance of the translation activity in foreign language learning.

2. The Model of the Research Participants

Participants are a total of 60 teacher candidates in their fourth/final year of education in the 2010-2011 academic year at the ELT department of Uludag University, Faculty of Education. All of the participants had achieved to pass both of the compulsory translation courses; English to Turkish translation course (three hours a week in the third semester) and Turkish to English translation course (three hours a week in the sixth semester) as mandated by the Higher Education Council- which is responsible of the supervision of universities in Turkey.

Instrumentation for Data Collection

For the present study, the first language of the participants' (L1) is Turkish and the foreign language or second language (L2) is English. Therefore the act of translation addressed is from the L1 to the L2 or vice versa. The

teacher candidates' perceptions about using translation as a language learning activity were measured by implementing an insight seeking questionnaire comprising of 15 items. The questionnaire is composed of two dimensions: The first dimension addresses the participants' insights on translation as a pedagogical activity and consists of nine items (1-9). The second dimension dwells on the issue of using translation as a foreign language skill developing activity. These skills are reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary (Items 10-15). The second dimension dwells on the issue of using translation as a foreign language skill developing activity. These skills are reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary (Items10-15). This structured questionnaire employs a Likert scale eliciting data in the form of the following rankings; "strongly disagree" (SD), "disagree" (D), "neutral" (N), "agree" (A), and "strongly agree" (SA). The data consists of the calculation of the frequencies of the rankings and is presented in a table format.

Findings and Discussion

The first item on the questionnaire aims at eliciting the overall pedagogical value of translation in foreign language learning. As can be seen from Table 1, almost every participant (97%) perceived translation to be an important language learning tool. Item 2 dwells on the issue of whether translation is perceived to be a communicative activity or not. The responses to this item are particularly high with 70 % agreeing and 13 % strongly agreeing. Observing items 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, again clearly indicates that translation is useful for language proficiency development and the results for these items confirm that the ELT teacher candidates find translation to be effective in foreign language development. In addition to the views based on translation as a complement to L2 teaching, Pariente-Beltran (2006) clams that "the main goal of using translation in the L2 classroom is to promote the comparison of discourses in L1 and L2. The reason is that students must understand first the structure of the L1 discourse in order to become aware of those cultural, grammatical and/or communicative aspects in L2 discourse that might need to be adapted to the target culture. By reflecting in the way language is used, students will eventually transmit their thoughts into L2 in a more pragmatically-correct and comprehensive way (p.24).

Table 1- Teacher Candidates' Perceptions about Translation as Pedagogical Activity

SD % D % N % A % SA %

1-Translation is an important tool in learning a foreign language. 7 43 50

2-Translation is a communicative activity because it enables the construction of

meaning from the L1 into L2 or vice versa. 17 70 13

3-Translation is a cognitive process because conscious knowledge helps towards the development of L2 proficiency. 13 64 23

4-Translation is a cultural experience because one becomes aware and if desired

transfers the culture of the L1 to the culture of L2 and vice versa. 7 27 33 33

5-Translation enhances my understanding of how both languages (L1 and L2) work. 13 42 45

6- Translation increases my awareness on the style of different text types.

7 70 23

7-Translating different text types help me to analyse and practice the discourse of L2 text types. 45 55

8-In order to gain full pedagogical potential from the translation activity, the student's l^^age proficiency must be higher than beginner's level. 20 45 35

9- Translation can be benefitted as a language learning tool at all levels of proficiency.

33 42 25

Item 4 asks the contribution of translation to the acquisition of cultural knowledge. On the contrary to all of the other items on the questionnaire, the results for this item displayed the lowest scores with 7% disagreeing and 27% neutral. These scores indicate the participants' ambiguous perceptions of the translation activity on the conduciveness of cultural knowledge. As can be seen in Table 1, item 8 by stating "in order to gain full pedagogical potential from the translation activity, the student's language proficiency must be higher than beginner's level" investigates whether translation can be effectively applied at all stages of language proficiency. Interestingly, while

only 20% responded 'neutral', the participants overwhelmingly agreed or strongly agreed (a total of 80%) that translation should be restricted to students who have foreign language proficiency above beginner's level. This finding vouches the finding in the literature because "it is argued that, before they can tackle translation productively, learners need to have acquired a significant level of proficiency in the language. It is no doubt the case that in order to extract the full pedagogic potential from translation, students need to have moved beyond beginners level and, where their linguistic competence allows it, we should be aiming at exploiting translation for all it can offer beyond the acquisition of certain structures or lexical items (e.g. sensitiveness to register, cultural knowledge, intercultural and stylistic awareness, etc.) (Carreres: 2006; 14)."

Table 2- Teacher Candidates' Perceptions about Translation in Foreign Language Skill Development

SD% D % N % A % SA %

10-Translation is an activity which aids to improve my reading skills in the L2. 12 12 48 28

11-Translation is an activity which aids to improve my writing skills in the L2. 27 33 40

12-With translation I am able to improve my grammatical competence. 67 33

13-Translation helps me to understand not only the surface structure but also the deep structure of sentences. 64 36

14-The activity of translation expands my vocabulary in the L2. 27 73

15-Translation is an activity which develops my skills on how to use a dictionary and thesaurus. 40 60

In the second dimension of the questionnaire, only item 10 displayed a negative response. 12% of the participants did not agree and 12% were neutral that the translation activity aids them in the process of developing their reading skills. However, as Mahmoud (2006) explains, when a text is translated the students first come into contact with the reading passage and they have to closely read it for its' main ideas and specific details. Therefore, "translation can improve comprehension since it encourages the students to read a passage carefully and precisely at the word, sentence, and text levels (Van Els et. al. 1984, as cited in Mahmoud: 2006)." As displayed in Table 2, item 11 dwells on the issue of developing writing skills. While 27 % of the participants neither supported nor opposed to the point that translation aids the development of foreign language writing skills, the remaining 73% agreed that it does. This finding supports other studies based on foreign language writing displaying the point that using the native language in a second language classroom can be an effective instrument for the development of writing proficiency (e.g. Kobayashi and Rinnert: 1992). Table 2 displays the point that all of the ELT teacher candidates without exception either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" to items 12, 13, 14, and 15. These four items asked the participants to rate their perceptions of translation as a language learning device for foreign language grammar and vocabulary skills. Items 12 and 13 are based on the issue of grammatical development and competence. The next two items investigate whether translation assists in enhancing foreign language vocabulary (item 14) and how to use a dictionary and thesaurus (item 15). to this issue, there are a number of studies which has gained similar outcomes. Carreres (2006) in her investigation on students' perception about translation as a language learning activity, presented the participants (students in the second and third year of their modern languages degree at the University of Cambridge) a list of areas of language and asked them to tick them according to whether they thought translation would help improve that area. Carreres (2006; 9) found that 100% of the students mentioned vocabulary, grammar and writing were both mentioned by 96%. In another study relating to whether translation is conducive to the acquisition of foreign language grammar and lexical items, Duff (1994) explains that accuracy, clarity, and flexibility are the three qualities essential to all language learning and that translation embeds all three qualities because it trains the learner to search flexibly for the most accurate words to clearly convey the meaning. Also, along these lines Schaffner (2002; 125) explains the benefits of translation with the following list: "a- improve

verbal agility, b- expand the students' vocabulary in L2, c- develop their style, d-improve their understanding of how languages work, e- consolidate L2 structures for active use, f- monitor and improve the comprehension of L2." Also, in a research conducted by Mehta (2010), issues and challenges pertaining to the translation courseware from English to Mongolian for Mongolian certified professional accountants, it was discovered that translation is not only a useful tool to learn grammar, syntax, and lexis in both the source and target languages but also that back translation aids to highlight and understand the relationship between the two languages. As can be seen in the previously mentioned studies, incorporating translation activities to L2 teaching contributes and is a complement to the teaching.

Conclusion

A glimpse at the literature on language learning also reveals that most commonly there are studies based on foreign language learning which have overlapped at certain points with translation. For example, there are studies based on the belief of language learning, which have displayed the point that language learners believe language learning to be merely a translation from the foreign language to the native language (e.g. Horwitz: 1999). The present study has demonstrated that even if language learning is not merely a translation from the foreign to the native language, translation is widely used by language learners (in this situation the ELT teacher candidates) as a learning strategy to grasp the meaning of a word or grammatical construct during the foreign language learning process.

To sum up, despite the attacks on the usage of translation in the language learning process, the present study has attempted to show that translation is a natural response of many students and that language learners still persist to use translation as a means for learning and understanding the new language. However, as Carreres (2006; 18) concludes "there is enough evidence to suggest that translation has an important role to play in language teaching, but more empirical research is needed. In particular, we need to gain further insight into its effectiveness relative to other language learning activities/' In addition, future investigations can be conducted on evaluating the effectiveness of translation activities in relation to students L2 acquisition and performance at all levels of foreign language proficiency.

References

Ashouri, A.F., and Z. Fotovatnia. (2010). The Effect of Individual Differences on Learners' Belief in EFL Learning English. English Language Teaching, No.3, Vol. 4, 228-237.

Carreres, A. (2006). Strange Bedfellows: Translation and Language Teaching. The teaching of Translation into L2 in Modern Languages Degrees: Uses and Limitations (online). In Sixth symposium on translation, terminology and interpretation in Cuba and Canada: December 2006. Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council.

http://www.cttic.org/publications 06Symposium.asp (accessed August 2011). Colina, S. (1999). Towards an Empirically-Based Translation Pedagogy. Beyond the Ivory Tower: Rethinking Translation Pedagogy. Ed. by Baer, Brian, Geoff Koby, Fanny Arango Keeth, and Sharon Bell. American Translators Association Monograph Series, Vol. XII. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Duff, A. (1994). Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Horwitz, E. K. (1999). Cultural and Situational Influences on Foreign Language Learners' Beliefs

About Language Learning: a review of BALLI studies. System, 27, 557-576. Kobayashi, H. and Rinnert C. (1992). Effects of First Language on Second Language Writing: Translation versus Direct Composition. Language Learning. Vol.42 No.2.

Liao, P. S. (2006). EFL Learners' Beliefs about and Strategy Use of Translation in English Learning, RELC Journal. Vol. 37(2), 191-215. Mahmoud, A. (2006). Translation and Foreign Language Reading Comprehension: A Neglected Didactic Procedure. English Teaching Forum. Vol. 44; No. 4.

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