I was reading Henrick Oprea’s latest post about language and thought and he posed some interesting questions about how much of our thinking is related to the language we can use. I’ve been living in Spain for six years now and I’m nowhere near fluent, but I rarely find that I can’t express myself as I use the language I know to get my point across.
However, there are some things which simply don’t translate well into Spanish and a word which has cropped up with my students recently is “procrastination”. I’ve checked a variety of sources (well, two – Google Translate and my partner’s Spanish-English dictionary) and the word has different translations, none of which convey what the word actually means: indecisión (indecision), dilación (delay) and morosidad (slowness in paying).
Whilst I find it frustrating when students ask me to translate Spanish phrases which lose their meaning when put into English, I also quite like the fact that some things are more easily conveyed in different languages. I think it adds to our cultural identity that there are some things which are Spanish, like Fería, which is nothing like a town fair in the UK; or British, like gravy!
The question of whether L1 has a place in the EFL classroom has raged for many years, and will undoubtedly still have teachers debating in the future. For some, the EFL classroom should be an environment where nothing but English is spoken, to the point where students can be expelled if they consistently speak Spanish. Others take a more relaxed attitude, arguing that an L1-free classroom can be a difficult situation to maintain, for both students and teachers.
I think that there are some activities in which we can use L1 to our advantage. Having done private classes with students to complement their school studies, I’ve seen how teachers in Spanish schools use translation of key phrases to highlight the structures within them, structures which sometimes cause problems for Spanish speakers.
In my opinion, there is good reason to translate phrases such as “I like going to the cinema a lot” from Spanish as the direct translation, which students sometimes come out with when speaking, sounds incredibly unnatural : “I like a lot to go to the cinema”.
Although it could be argued that if students use the correct structure enough it will become more natural to them, I would say that there’s no harm in having it written correctly too for students to refer back to.
Recently I was browsing some teaching groups on facebook and came across a link to a Firefox add-on called languageBOB. This is a program which you can download and which works on Firefox translating some words into a foreign language with the aim of “drip-feeding” the foreign language so that the reader absorbs the language through context. I’ve had it on for a couple of days and have been practising my long-forgotten French, whilst finding some amusing bugs in the program at the same time!
Yesterday for example, I discovered that my cousin is “un ventilateur of Summertime” and that I too could become un ventilateur if I liked. The problem, as with many online translation programs, is that here the translation is incorrect but, rather than being nonsensical as is often the case, turns out to be quite a fun pun!
So, would I recommend languageBOB to my students? Yes, because the program-writer admits that there are faults in the program and that it is not a language course but as he says, “it takes the drudgery out of learning” and anything that can motivate students to learn in their freetime can’t be a bad thing.
For more information, visit www.languagebob.com