How to Teach Translation & Interpreting

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Teaching translation and interpretation takes creativity. A teacher needs to be able to excite students about the process, and prospects, of translating texts into language so that everyone can enjoy the wealth of stories and ideas a writer wants to share with the world. Interpretation and translation go hand in hand -- if a translator only can guess at a matching word, he or she is not doing the work to find the most accurate diction to transmit the author's meaning to the page.

  • Introduce a compelling text in the foreign language to get students interested in translation. If students are learning to translate French into English, start with short stories. This way, they will know if they are reading correctly into the story, by following the plot and how characters and conflict develop.

  • Bring in audio-books. Choose a book on tape or CD for the class. Use a language lap, equipped with headsets for each student. Encourage students to listen to the cadence of the narrator's voice versus spoken speech. For example, listen to the tone of a French novel, or a Beckett play.

  • Ask students to read the novel or play in the original language after listening. After hearing the story told in the French language, the student will likely be prone to reading the work with French in the student's mind, not his or her native language. While listening, ask students to interpret the meaning of the novel by translating passages. For example, students may read a Balzac novel in French and select a few passages to translate into English, or the native language. Help students discover subtle language choices that give the audience a sense of the author's tone and objective in the writing.

  • Blend in music. Play a Spanish, German, Japanese, French or Norwegian song, for example. Ask students to translate the lyrics into their native language. In the process, encourage students to interpret the meanings of the lyrics. For instance, a Spanish songwriter may be addressing the hurt and lingering agony of the Spanish Civil War, or celebrating the triumph of a free country.

  • Translate a news story. Ask students to record by audio a news program and translate the program into the foreign language, such as French, German or Spanish. Let each student present the news story in his or her own style. For instance, students can film themselves reciting the news text by memory in a news-anchor style. Or, students can record the news program, translate it into their native language, and read it in both versions to the class.

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