Translation in Second Language Learning and Teaching

Arnd Witte, Theo Harden and Alessandra Ramos de Oliveira Harden (2009)

Peter Lang: Bern, pp. 414, ISBN 978 3 03911 8977, SFR 80.00

Reviewed by: Sara Laviosa

The 24 articles included in the volume edited by Witte et al. were presented at a conference on ‘Translation and Second Language Teaching and Learning’ that was hosted at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, from 27th to 29th March 2008. The authors of this variegated collection of scholarly works address three interrelated questions: 1) where and how translation can help learners achieve language proficiency; 2) the role played by translation in developing intercultural competence; and 3) the types of cognitive processes that are involved in translation. These issues are discussed within the framework provided by the communicative approach to language teaching (CLT), which accepts a judicious use of the learner’s native language where feasible, and the use of translation where students need or benefit from it (Finocchiaro and Brumfit 1983, in Richards and Rodgers 2001: 156).

On the basis of this interpretation of some of the distinctive features of CLT (see also Widdowson 1978; Titford and Hieke 1985; Krings 1994; Klein-Braley 1996, all quoted in Witte et al 2009: 1), the contributors to the volume edited by Witte et al, share the view that “[t]ranslation in language teaching has by no means the objective of educating translators” (Witte et al. 2009: 2). Therefore, Cordero’s (1984: 350ff in Stiefel 2009: 110) distinction between educational and professional translation is taken on board. This clear stance explains why the teaching methods illustrated or recommended in this volume draw mainly on the insights provided by psycholinguistic studies of bilingualism, second language acquisition studies, and foreign language education theory. On the other hand, the achievements of translation studies scholarship are largely considered to be relevant in translator training (Gnutzmann 2009: 56) and less important in language teaching. An exception is Lisa Stiefel’s study, whose point of departure is that “[t]he learner, like the translator, is confronted with the complexities of language and culture” (2009: 99).

Crucially, Stiefel draws on the convergence between translation studies research (Katan 1999; Stolze 2001; Nida 2004, in Stiefel 2009) and foreign language pedagogy (Cordero 1984; Byram 1995; Einbeck 2002; Savignon and Sysoyev 2002, in Stiefel 2009) to support the revival of translation in language teaching. She then examines three different pedagogic projects where translation exercises have been or can be usefully incorporated so that the language learner is given the opportunity to assume the role of mediator in “a socially relevant context in which he can practice his language, social, and cultural fluency” (Stiefel 2009: 115). These projects are: Cordero’s course in educational translation, Einbeck’s course in literature designed for study abroad students, and Savignon and Sysoyev’s nine-week project aimed at developing sociocultural strategies.

The above principles, which have been examined in detail in part one of the volume, have been variedly applied in the foreign language classroom. More specifically, part two is devoted to different kinds of translation exercises ranging from word-to-word translation to sight translation activities, task-based projects, and subtitling. Part three focuses on reading and translating literary texts with a view to developing not only reading comprehension skills by also the capacity to appreciate cultural differences. Finally, part four addresses specific translation problems arising from L1-L2 mismatches at various levels of textual analysis. In the student-centred classroom described in these studies, the teacher is a facilitator and the student is encouraged to engage in a variety of real-life tasks, where new technologies offer many opportunities for diversifying and innovating traditional language teaching procedures.


Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

©inTRAlinea & Sara Laviosa (2011).
[Review] "Translation in Second Language Learning and Teaching", inTRAlinea Vol. 13
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