AUTHOR: Vanessa Leonardi
TITLE: The Role of Pedagogical Translation in Second Language Acquisition
SUBTITLE: From Theory to Practice
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
Jinjing Zhao, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, University of Arizona
Recognizing the negative reputation of the Grammar-Translation method, Vanessa
Leonardi presents a straightforward argument: since learners always mentally
translate between L1 and L2, translation can and should be employed in foreign
language teaching and learning. Leonardi attempts to re-evaluate the pedagogical
value of translation, not only by aligning translation activities with theories
of second language acquisition (SLA) but also by providing a pedagogical
framework for how to integrate translation into foreign language classes.
Leonardi distinguishes pedagogical translation from translation pedagogy. The
latter aims to train professional translators whereas the former is “a means to
help learners acquire, develop, and further strengthen their knowledge and
competence in a foreign language” (p. 17). In the first chapter, Leonardi lays
out the fundamental assumption of the book that translation is a mental activity
that naturally occurs in learner’s mind; no matter how hard teachers work to
avoid L1 in the classroom, it is impossible to learn a foreign language without
comparing it to one’s mother tongue, especially at the beginning stages (p. 19).
Therefore, foreign language teachers should not ban translation activities from
the classroom. In addition, an increasingly globalized world and increasingly
multilingual Europe demand translating skills to overcome communicative barriers
across languages and cultures.
Since the failure of the Grammar-Translation method, translation as a foreign
language teaching method has carried a negative connotation. Leonardi therefore
addresses the objections that readers may hold against the translation pedagogy
advocated in the book. She argues that translation is a valuable pedagogical
activity that supports the development of the four skills: reading, writing,
speaking, and listening. It also helps students compare two languages and two
cultures. This comparative knowledge developed through translation may help
students better control their L2 production.
The second chapter is a brief survey of the most important theories of second
language acquisition (SLA) and the most influential second language teaching
methods, based on Saville-Troike’s (2006) “Introducing Second Language
Acquisition” and Richards and Rodgers’ (1997) “Approaches and Methods in
Language Teaching”. I will return below to Leonardi’s effort to align
translation with these mainstream SLA theories and practices. Then Leonardi
briefly discusses the role of L1 in second language teaching and learning. She
argues that translation and the use of L1 in foreign language classes is a
natural phenomenon because “L1 and L2 are constantly and automatically
interwoven in the learner’s mind at all levels, such as phonology, syntax,
lexis, and pragmatics” (pp. 62-63). Furthermore, translation skills actually
allow the learners to be flexible and analytical in using two languages and
mediating between two cultures.
In Chapter 3, Leonardi explores the complexities of translation, an activity
that cannot be reduced to a simple linguistic activity. The task of the
translator is to build a relationship of equivalence between the source text and
the target text. It requires the translator to fully understand the meaning and
the social historical context of both the source text and the target text. The
notion of equivalence, however, is a controversial concept in translation
studies and it affects how translators approach translation tasks. Leonardi
offers a summary of the most influential theories regarding the notion of
equivalence. She ends the chapter by exploring the role of translation in the
foreign language classes. Benefits of pedagogical translation include promoting
critical reading, vocabulary building, grammar learning, intercultural
competence, as well as communicative competence.
In Chapter 4, Leonardi presents the Pedagogical Translation Framework (PTF), a
practical guide to employing translation in foreign language classes. In
principle, translation should be adopted in ways integrated with other commonly
taught skills. Since translation is often seen as an activity that focuses on
only reading and writing, Leonardi shows how it can be used to develop all four
language skills. In addition, pedagogical translation is student-centered.
Rather than providing the best translation, the teacher should encourage
students to actively participate in the translation process and negotiation (p.
86). This chapter also provides practical examples of translation activities.
In the final part of the book, Leonardi lists important points for readers
interested in implementing the Pedagogical Translation Framework in their own
classes, ending with a call for more research on the efficacy of using
translation in foreign language classes at all levels of proficiency and with
all age groups.
Few readers would deny that L2 learners, especially those at the beginning
level, constantly compare and translate between L1 and L2. Rather than avoiding
L1, this book argues for using translation activities in foreign language
classes in which students and teachers share an L1. Drawing on research in
second language acquisition and translation, this interdisciplinary work will
be of use to foreign language teachers who have never employed translation in
their classes and would like to try it. It also gives a good introduction to SLA
theories to translation teachers who are interested in teaching foreign language
classes but not familiar with SLA theories.
The book lays out mainstream second language acquisition and translation
theories that form the theoretical foundation of the pedagogical translation
framework. An interdisciplinary framework, pedagogical translation is informed
by studies both in SLA and in translation. Regarding SLA theories, Leonardi
addresses the issue of using L1 in foreign language classes. Drawing on past
research on the role of L1 in foreign language classes (e.g. Auerbach, 1993;
Anton and DiCamilla, 1999; Cook, 2001), Leonardi argues that using L1 and
translation has several benefits for learners. First, it will lead learners to
acquire meaning and knowledge in a foreign language “through comparison between
existing and new information” (p.63). In addition, translation and comparisons
between L1 and L2 will develop learners’ analytical abilities since it allows
them to “notice differences in uses and functions between and among languages”
(p.63). Finally, translation helps learners to become “mediators between two
languages and two cultures” (p.63).
The key concept of translation studies that inform the pedagogical translation
framework is the notion of equivalence. The goal of translation is to create
equivalence, yet translators often find it hard or even impossible to achieve
absolute equivalence due to the cultural differences between the source text and
the target text. Leonardi argues that translating a message from one language
into another can serve a variety of pedagogical purposes ranging from
“linguistic problems” to “cultural, semantic and pragmatic concerns” (p.82).
Translation exercises allow learners to develop critical and analytical skills
because they have to analyze both meaning and form and decide what to translate
and how (p.82). When translating, learners also need to examine the cultural
dimension of a text. As mediators between two languages and two cultures,
learners will assess losses and gains in interpreting and negotiating meaning.
Leonardi demonstrates that pedagogical translation connects meaning with form
and integrates culture into language teaching. In this sense, the book
contributes to the movement in second language teaching that rejects the
presumption of language as a skill detached from social historical contexts in
which it is used.
However, this book is not without its faults. The link between theory and
practice is not quite clear. For example, after summarizing the linguistic,
psychological, and social perspectives of SLA, Leonardi does not further
hypothesize about the potential benefits of pedagogical translation according to
these SLA theories. The main argument of the book could be strengthened if she
had further discussed the theories that bear particular relevance for her
pedagogical framework. From a linguistic perspective, for instance, translation
activities may help students understand the morphological, lexical, and
syntactical similarities and differences between L1 and L2, and thus may promote
positive transfer and reduce negative transfer. From a sociocultural
perspective, discussing sample source and target texts in L2 can serve as a
scaffolding activity and prepare students to write about similar topics or in
similar genres. Peer review of translation may promote interaction and
meta-language discussion among students. Of course, these hypothesized benefits
of translation must be tested through empirical studies conducted in foreign
In conclusion, Leonardi’s book on pedagogical translation addresses an emerging
field of language teaching in this increasingly globalized world. Leonardi
proposes a potentially useful pedagogical framework for employing translation in
foreign language teaching. It may be of interest to foreign language teachers
who share the same L1 with the students or have a substantial knowledge of
students’ L1. Leonardi’s review of mainstream SLA and translation theories makes
the book quite accessible to readers who are not familiar with SLA theories and
translation. For the field of pedagogical translation to move forward, however,
more theoretical work and empirical research are needed to gain insights into
its effectiveness in foreign language classrooms.
Anton, M. & DiCamilla, F. (1999). Socio-cognitive functions of L1 collaborative
interaction in the L2 classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 83(2), 233-247.
Auerbach, E. (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL
Quarterly, 27(1), 9-32.
Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. The Canadian Modern
Language Review, 57(3), 184-206.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. (1997). Approaches and methods in language
teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saville-Troike, M. (2006). Introducing second language acquisition. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press.
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