Translate, Read, Translate again

When I came to the United States my English was probably at the novice-mid (ACTFL) level. It was very difficult for me to understand what people were saying to me because it seemed too fast or because I did not know the vocabulary. I am a language teacher who has gone through the experience of learning a language as an adult and this has also helped me to think and create strategies that, although not based on rigorous research, are based on the experience of someone who, after three years was able to start communicating effectively and efficiently in a second language.

It is no secret to the empirical language learner that one of the first steps in beginning to acquire a second language is to constantly mentally translate into his/her native language. This makes the conversation a little slow but little by little it helps us to gain confidence and to reach that moment when the mental translation is so fast that we are not even aware of it, we manage to become bilingual.

Today I want to share with you an unorthodox strategy that will probably raise a lot of eyebrows among language researchers, but that I can confirm is efficient and has helped my students. Just as we can better understand a book when we first see the movie based on it, this strategy is based on the creation of context. I have called this strategy: Translate, Read and Translate again and I explain it below.

I love reading books with my students. Collective reading creates an environment of camaraderie impossible to create while students read individually. As we read together, we comment, mime what happens in the story, make fun of the characters, and contextualize everything so that the student connects with what they read.

Translate, Read and Translate again, is a very simple strategy. My job is to facilitate the second language for my students, so whatever we do in class is always easy. To work with Translate, Read, Translate again, I simply explain to the students that we will read chunks of the chosen text as follows:

1- While mentally reading in Spanish, the teacher translates aloud into English so that his/her students listen to him/her while they follow the reading in the target language. (This will be done with short pieces of text, maximum six or seven lines).

2- Next, the teacher will read the piece of text in the target language, directly from the book, emphasizing the correct pronunciation.

3- The teacher asks a volunteer to translate into English the piece of text he/she has just read in the target language.

4- Continue reading in the same way for a maximum length of two or three pages depending on how much text there is in each one.

Observations of this activity:

Here’s how I’ve seen my students benefit from this reading strategy:

1- Listening in English while mentally reading in Spanish allows the student to relax and mentally try to make sense of what is being communicated in the text. By avoiding the initial stress of not understanding what will be read, the student will be able to focus on deeper aspects of the text.

2- While reading in Spanish with emphasis on pronunciation, the student who already knows what the text says, concentrates on the sounds of Spanish. This does not happen when we ask that the student simply read in Spanish from the very first moment.

3- When translating the selected text into English, the student observes the text in Spanish more closely and this allows him/her to understand the structure of the TL language in an unconscious, non frightening way.

4- I have noticed that it becomes much easier for the student to remember the meaning of some words due to the previous contextualization.

I invite you to try this simple strategy in class. The intention is not to read the whole book like this, but to give students a strong and motivating starting point for them to continue reading individually. I make sure we collectively start each chapter this way.

Let me know if you have any questions. My email is diego@srojeda.com. I am a teacher like you who shares his experiences as a teacher. You like this blog post? Please share with your colleagues.


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10 Comments

  1. Gracias, Diego. This sounds like a fascinating idea. I am going to ty it tomorrow. Not with a book (my learners are too young) but with a selected text I have written containing many of our target structures. It sound like it could be a great addition to a teacher’s armoury!

    *Regards*,

    *Chris Greene* คริส กรีน *Head of Modern Languages*

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  2. Thank you for sharing. I teach introductory Spanish to middle school students. This answers many questions about how to best help my students begin reading. I am beginning fvr/fcr with them this week and didn’t think much about how to proceed other than just reading. I also have a copy of Dr. Seuss “Run, dog, run” completely in Spanish and several class sets of readers. I was planning to read Dr. Seuss with them soon, but using your idea I think I will translate each page before reading it to them and having a student translate. I think it will provide a very high confort level and be a good example to them for their own reading. (Looking at unfamiliar words for context clues, in glossaries, etc… before reading the whole page.) I will also begin using the readers now that I have a clearer idea of how to begin.
    I feel like I have improved immensely as a teacher for the few minutes I spent reading your words. I guess a light bulb went off or maybe a floodlight.. Thanks again. I will start this week much more confident about reading with my students than I was when I left school .on Friday

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    1. Looks like you are doing an amazing job Suzan! Thank you for sharing. I like that some of them might already be familiar with Dr Seuss. This technique works also well with new readings. Let me know if you ever need readers recommendations for your classes. Good luck on Monday. Diego

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      1. I would live to know your suggestions for classroom readers. I see my classes 2 days out of a 6 day cycle for the whole year. They have had about 30 days of class. We use Somos/comprehensible input. They are just beginning, but doing well and are very eager learners. I would like something very simple so they can feel successful. Thank you for your help.

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