Does Translation From L2 to L1 and Vice Versa Improve Students' Writing Skills in Advanced Second Language Classes?

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Catherine Black, Department of French

Project team: Guillaume Marteau, research assistant

Timeframe: January 2017 to November 2017

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: FREN 301W – Advanced French Composition

Final report: View Catherine Black's final report (PDF)

Description: For this project I would like first to investigate the effectiveness of translation in a writing intensive course. I am interested in this because it is always recommended for students to think in French to avoid the pitfalls of using English syntax when writing in French. Second, if we allow the use of translation which language would they be translating from: English or a mother tongue other than English. This question is particularly relevant because the majority of our students speak 2 to 3 languages. Which one would they be using and why? Could they rely on more than one language? I also would like to see if using translation is a good pedagogical approach to take advantage of the different languages used by our multilingual students to help improve their L2.

Questions addressed:

  • Can translation tasks improve writing skills in French in a 3rd year writing intensive course?
  • What insights into their French writing do students believe they’ve gained from doing the translation exercises?
  • What is the students’ perception of whether the translation exercises improve their writing in French?
  • What is the relationship with the native language, French, and the translation?
  • How do students write in French if they are not told to think in French first – as they might, for example, outside of French class? How do their strategies compare to the way the write for class?

Knowledge sharing: The department has a teaching circle twice a term. I will present the research there. The graduate student working with me will use this study to write his MA thesis.  

This research is very timely because our department is working on the learning objectives for the course FREN 301W used in the project. This research project could provide the department with new ways of teaching writing skills to our students. I also hope to write a paper to present the findings in peer reviewed journals such as French Review or CMLR (The Canadian Modern Language Review). This study could be the start of many conversations on the use of translation in L2 teaching and Learning.

Black, C. & Marteau, G. (2017, April). To use or not to use inverted translation in language teaching. Presented at the Standing Committee on Language Articulation (SCOLA) Annual Meeting, Kelowna, BC.

Black, C., & Marteau, G. (2018, June). Inverted translation: A qualitative study on its impact on students’ writing. Presented at the 7th International Second Language Pedagogies Conference (SLPC7), University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.

Keywords: second language acquisition; language transfer; writing skills; translation; English; French; effective language teaching; natural language teaching; multilingual learners; Reverse translation; students’ perceptions on translation; advanced writing and L2 learning