20 ideas for teaching translation

Author: Isabelle Jones
Published: 06/09/2020


Lost in translation?

Translation is back! As translation makes a come-back at GCSE and consolidates its status at A Level, there is a growing need to start developing an understanding of translation techniques with younger learners.

Key Stage 3

At KS3, translation exercises ensure that grammar and vocabulary are taught explicitly and demand a focus on accuracy. Translation can also be presented as a ‘real life’ activity that would be used when travelling to the target language country or as a future career. At this stage, it is also particularly important to embed translation in good classroom practice such as consistent use of the target language in class.

Key Stage 4

At KS4, developing translation skills is essential to prepare for the new GCSE specifications. Providing a focus on sentence structure and accuracy, translation will also benefit students’ speaking and writing. Using a wide range of text types – ranging from short stories to jokes in the target language – will also help to inject creativity into translation tasks.   

A Level

Finally, at A Level, translation activities consolidate the assimilation of target language syntax, as students construct and deconstruct the texts. Translation also encourages reflection on idiomatic structures and style in both English and the target language.

Translation for all

Traditionally considered a challenging activity for our most able linguists, it is high time we made translation more accessible to less able and younger language learners. This could be done by breaking tasks down into word, sentence and text level activities, linked with speaking as well as writing. In this way, translation will enable us to help all language learners build up their vocabulary and improve their command of key idiomatic structures.

Here are five examples from this resource:

  1. Verbal dominoes. Each student is given a domino card and the group listen to the first person’s word or phrase, checking whether they have the translation on their own card.  The person who does reads the translation, before reading the next word on their card, and so on around the class.

  2. Quiz, quiz, trade. Create cards with a phrase on one side and its translation on the other.  Students quiz each other in turn by holding up the card and checking the answer to give feedback.  They then trade cards and find a new partner to quiz.

  3. Match the English. Ask students to find words and sentences in a target language text to match a list of words and sentences in English.  This could be done as a team game or against the clock.  Use authentic texts to increase motivation.

  4. Collaborative translation. Working in a small group of up to four, students translate different parts of the same text and pass it on.  Each member of the group then proofreads each translated section with a specific focus (e.g. verbs and tenses, adjectival agreement etc.), before passing it on.

  5. Make a pelmanism game. Provide each student with a text and a translation of it.  Students design a pelmanism game with phrases illustrating the specific differences they noted between the original and the translated text, e.g. word order, use of articles, adjectival agreement, idiomatic expressions etc.

Download all 20 ideas for teaching translation.

Isabelle Jones

Isabelle Jones is a head of languages, a trained translator/interpreter and an MFL consultant.