Rationale for translation into the target language


At word level, translation from English into the target language is about vocabulary acquisition, (long-term) memory, speed of recall, accuracy and spelling. All teachers use translation at this level every time they conduct a vocabulary test. The national foreign language Spelling Bee competition for Year 7 language learners is another example of translation into the target language at the earliest stages of development. Few teachers would argue about the essential role that this sort of learning plays in progression.

Beyond word level, (i.e. at sentence or short text level) translation into the target language (or prose translation as it is often known) tests both vocabulary and grammar knowledge in use. This is the case even when students are required only to fill in individual words in the correct form, for example when they must select either the infinitive or conjugated form of the verb, or the definite or indefinite article, or the plural or singular adjectival form. There is now a sentence level version of the spelling bee, open to Y8 and Y9 students.

Prose translation is therefore a test of knowledge. It tests students’ ability to manipulate language to make meaning. It can be much more than a test, however. If it forms part of an integrated cycle of activity, involving formative assessment, individual analysis, target-setting, follow-up tasks and further activity, the opportunities for learners to experience a real sense of linguistic progress are there in abundance.

Certain types of prose translation task can also develop an understanding of, and sensitivity to the use of language, where it differs to English; an awareness of when word-for-word translation does not work. These sorts of ‘mind the gap’ activities are instrumental in developing students’ ability to write more creatively and more accurately.

Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2011) Modern languages: achievement and challenge 2007–2010, London: HMSO.

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