“Vintage” translation: How to give traditional translation exercises a modern twist

Translation exercises in the FL classroom are often still frowned upon. Their bad press stems from the fact that they bring back memories from traditional, endless and boring classes where students would just sit and translate. The foreign language was not to be spoken; it simply was to be whipped into written shape.

However, translation can be a very useful tool in the FL classroom. It actually can be made into a collaborative learning task that allows students to adopt an active and reflective role.

For this purpose you just have to create a text in your students’ mother tongue (i.e. formal / informal letter, chat conversation, recipe). Make it suit your needs by including the vocabulary and grammar you want your students to work on. I use this activity in my German class from Year 7 to Year 10, A1-A2 level

Stage 1

The text is organized into paragraphs of the same length and photocopied as many times needed so that every student receives 1 paragraph. Students translate their fragments on their own. They aren’t allowed to ask questions to the teacher or their classmates. They may use all their personal material, though, such as notebooks or course books for the task. (10 minutes approx.)


Students form groups (2/3 people) with those classmates that have the same paragraph. During this stage of the activity they may compare their translations, ask questions, and make corrections. (5 minutes approx.)

Stage 3

Finally, students sit again in groups, each of them has a different fragment of the text. Now it is time to put the paragraphs into the right order and to cooperate to write a neat copy of the whole text. During this stage, group members may help each other again, ask questions, and simply improve their translations. (25  minutes approx.)


Those who think that the translations handed in by the different groups are identical couldn’t be farther away from the truth. Obviously, there are students who, when working in groups, just copy their classmate’s work – if possible from someone who is good at German. But most of them really work together and reflect upon the languages they are working with, both the mother tongue and the foreign language. Students explain to each other the translation choices they made, help with grammar and spelling and simply learn in a collaborative way. Sometimes it even comes to rather heated discussions about who is right.  Isn’t this just as life itself?

By: Lucía Rodríguez Cuenca

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