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Translation and language learning

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

This interesting article published yesterday in The Guardian deserves to be promoted and commented upon. You will indeed find some interesting arguments in favour of the use of translation in language teaching, which is what we also try to promote with Juvenes translatores.

Translation is a “mediation” between different languages. It helps the comparisons between languages, suggests the etymology of words, and reveals the structure of languages as well as the cultural differences. It also deepens the command of the mother tongue which is crucial for language learning, since this begins with the learning of one’s own language.

Unfortunately, translation still suffers from being seen as old-fashioned, and some teachers hesitate to use the mother tongue in the foreign language classroom. This is a tricky issue, and there are good arguments for and against. But the truth is that students are facing translation everywhere outside the schools and they will be confronted to it during their studies and their professional lives. The question remains: when the skill of translation is being promoted during school time,? Would it be possible to find a way to re-examine its interest and use? Wouldn’t it also be a good opportunity for facilitating interdisciplinary work and team teaching, bringing together the different language teachers for a better language learning experience?

What do you think? Share your experience with us!


Translation rhymes with invention

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

2 minutes 40 seconds! It is all you need – alongside a good understanding of French – to enjoy this video (listen between 33:20 and 36:00). You will hear Heinz Wismann, philologist and philosopher, talk about the fine art of translation and its potential for school pupils.

If you don’t understand Molière’s language, don’t worry, here is a brief summary of what Wismann says.

Based on an interview with the great philosopher Paul Ricoeur carried out in 2004 after the publication of his last book, On Translation, Heinz Wismann gives his interesting comments about translation.

He focuses particularly on the difference between “version” and “translation”.

“Version” is an academic and codified exercise. In this case, there is supposed to exist a so-called “right translation”: it is the original text written by the ancient authors towards which the translations done by the pupils must converge (in Latin or Ancient Greek, for instance).

“Translation” is a completely different exercise. It is a matter of invention, where translators must find ways to say things in their own language going beyond the words used in another one. It is a land of uncertainty, but also of creativity.

In order to illustrate his point, Heinz Wismann takes the rather sad example of a pilot project implemented in French schools that turned out to be an epic failure. Schools were proposed some “circles of translation” where the pupils were invited to translate. But soon it turned out that what  those “circles” did was not “translation”, but “version”, sticking to a codified and “authoritarian” model as Wismann puts it. The misunderstanding was total, and the opportunity to bring translation into schools totally missed.

What a waste, considering the fantastic potential of translation to promote creativity and inventiveness.

Tapping into this potential is precisely what we intend to do with Juvenes Translatores. Believe us, at the end of the day there’s no “right translation”, but a variety of possibilities explored by the young translators.

Nice food for thought, isn’t it? So why not trying to make room for translation in language teaching? It’s not just a question of language learning; it is also a question of being creative, and learning how to go beyond the words in one’s own language and how to approach the same reality from different angles.


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