Number one for English language teachers

General: using translation

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

There is a great deal of useful awareness-raising when learners compare English with their own tongue. Here are four great translation games - and they don’t even require you to speak the other language!


Many teachers feel their training has discouraged them from using translation in class. There is however a great deal of useful awareness-raising when learners compare English with their own tongue. Here are four great translation games - and they don’t even require you to speak the other language!

English whispers

  1. Prepare about 15 cards, each with a short everyday phrase (e.g. “Could you spare a moment, please?”). 

  2. Ask 7 learners to stand in a line at the front of the class.

  3. Take the first card and give it to the student at one end of the line who looks at the card and then whispers - once only - the message to student two. No-one else should hear the sentence. 

  4. Student two now passes the message on in translation (e.g. in Spanish) to student three - who must whisper it on to the next student in English - and so on, the message going from language to language down the line. 

  5. When the message reaches the end of the line, the first and last student say their messages out loud - and they can be compared. 

  6. Often the confusions will be interesting and funny - and you can discuss if they are translation or listening errors. It may also be useful to hear what people said all along the line. 

  7. When finished play the game again with the next card and so on. Make new lines to give more students a chance to take part.

Diplomatic affairs
  1. Learners stand in groups of four: two 'ambassadors' and two 'interpreters'. 
    One “ambassador' only speaks / understands English; the other only understands her mother tongue. 

  2. The 'interpreters' (one working for each ambassador) understand both languages.
    The ambassadors now meet at a 'party' and must have a conversation with each other about anything! 

  3. The ambassadors whisper their communication to their interpreter and the interpreter must then communicate aloud (in translation) what their ambassador said to the other ambassador. (If you have a group of three, then only have one interpreter who does all the mediation.)

Diplomatic incident
  1. Play the game as above but each interpreter must completely mistranslate ONE communication. 

  2. At the end ambassadors should guess which messages came through wrongly.

Translation role-plays
  1. Prepare a pack of cards with everyday situations on them - especially ones in which a foreign tourist needs to do something in an English-speaking country - e.g. 'buying a ticket at the train station', 'asking what time the film starts', 'booking into a hotel' etc.

  2. In groups of three, one student is a foreign tourist (who doesn’t speak English and speaks only, for example, Portuguese). 

  3. The other people are (i) the person they are talking to (e.g. a ticket seller who only speaks English) and (ii) their friend who speaks both languages. 

  4. Each group picks one situation card from the pack. They read it together and decide exactly what the role-play will be.

  5. Then they then do it. The friend translates in both directions to help the tourist and the native speaker communicate.

 

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