LINGUIST List 23.2826

Mon Jun 25 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Lang. Acquisition; Translation: Leonardi (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 25-Jun-2012
From: Jinjing Zhao <>
Subject: The Role of Pedagogical Translation in Second Language Acquisition
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AUTHOR: Vanessa LeonardiTITLE: The Role of Pedagogical Translation in Second Language AcquisitionSUBTITLE: From Theory to PracticePUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2010

Jinjing Zhao, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, University of Arizona

SUMMARYRecognizing the negative reputation of the Grammar-Translation method, VanessaLeonardi presents a straightforward argument: since learners always mentallytranslate between L1 and L2, translation can and should be employed in foreignlanguage teaching and learning. Leonardi attempts to re-evaluate the pedagogicalvalue of translation, not only by aligning translation activities with theoriesof second language acquisition (SLA) but also by providing a pedagogicalframework for how to integrate translation into foreign language classes.

Leonardi distinguishes pedagogical translation from translation pedagogy. Thelatter aims to train professional translators whereas the former is "a means tohelp learners acquire, develop, and further strengthen their knowledge andcompetence in a foreign language" (p. 17). In the first chapter, Leonardi laysout the fundamental assumption of the book that translation is a mental activitythat naturally occurs in learner's mind; no matter how hard teachers work toavoid L1 in the classroom, it is impossible to learn a foreign language withoutcomparing it to one's mother tongue, especially at the beginning stages (p. 19).Therefore, foreign language teachers should not ban translation activities fromthe classroom. In addition, an increasingly globalized world and increasinglymultilingual Europe demand translating skills to overcome communicative barriersacross languages and cultures.

Since the failure of the Grammar-Translation method, translation as a foreignlanguage teaching method has carried a negative connotation. Leonardi therefore addresses the objections that readers may hold against the translation pedagogyadvocated in the book. She argues that translation is a valuable pedagogicalactivity that supports the development of the four skills: reading, writing,speaking, and listening. It also helps students compare two languages and twocultures. This comparative knowledge developed through translation may helpstudents better control their L2 production.

The second chapter is a brief survey of the most important theories of secondlanguage acquisition (SLA) and the most influential second language teachingmethods, based on Saville-Troike's (2006) "Introducing Second LanguageAcquisition" and Richards and Rodgers' (1997) "Approaches and Methods inLanguage Teaching". I will return below to Leonardi's effort to aligntranslation with these mainstream SLA theories and practices. Then Leonardibriefly discusses the role of L1 in second language teaching and learning. Sheargues that translation and the use of L1 in foreign language classes is anatural phenomenon because "L1 and L2 are constantly and automaticallyinterwoven in the learner's mind at all levels, such as phonology, syntax,lexis, and pragmatics" (pp. 62-63). Furthermore, translation skills actuallyallow the learners to be flexible and analytical in using two languages andmediating between two cultures.

In Chapter 3, Leonardi explores the complexities of translation, an activitythat cannot be reduced to a simple linguistic activity. The task of thetranslator is to build a relationship of equivalence between the source text andthe target text. It requires the translator to fully understand the meaning andthe social historical context of both the source text and the target text. Thenotion of equivalence, however, is a controversial concept in translationstudies and it affects how translators approach translation tasks. Leonardioffers a summary of the most influential theories regarding the notion ofequivalence. She ends the chapter by exploring the role of translation in theforeign language classes. Benefits of pedagogical translation include promotingcritical reading, vocabulary building, grammar learning, interculturalcompetence, as well as communicative competence.

In Chapter 4, Leonardi presents the Pedagogical Translation Framework (PTF), apractical guide to employing translation in foreign language classes. Inprinciple, translation should be adopted in ways integrated with other commonlytaught skills. Since translation is often seen as an activity that focuses ononly reading and writing, Leonardi shows how it can be used to develop all fourlanguage skills. In addition, pedagogical translation is student-centered.Rather than providing the best translation, the teacher should encouragestudents 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 readersinterested in implementing the Pedagogical Translation Framework in their ownclasses, ending with a call for more research on the efficacy of usingtranslation in foreign language classes at all levels of proficiency and withall age groups.

EVALUATIONFew readers would deny that L2 learners, especially those at the beginninglevel, constantly compare and translate between L1 and L2. Rather than avoidingL1, this book argues for using translation activities in foreign languageclasses in which students and teachers share an L1. Drawing on research insecond language acquisition and translation, this interdisciplinary work willbe of use to foreign language teachers who have never employed translation intheir classes and would like to try it. It also gives a good introduction to SLAtheories to translation teachers who are interested in teaching foreign languageclasses but not familiar with SLA theories.

The book lays out mainstream second language acquisition and translationtheories that form the theoretical foundation of the pedagogical translationframework. An interdisciplinary framework, pedagogical translation is informedby studies both in SLA and in translation. Regarding SLA theories, Leonardiaddresses the issue of using L1 in foreign language classes. Drawing on pastresearch on the role of L1 in foreign language classes (e.g. Auerbach, 1993;Anton and DiCamilla, 1999; Cook, 2001), Leonardi argues that using L1 andtranslation has several benefits for learners. First, it will lead learners toacquire meaning and knowledge in a foreign language "through comparison betweenexisting and new information" (p.63). In addition, translation and comparisonsbetween L1 and L2 will develop learners' analytical abilities since it allowsthem to "notice differences in uses and functions between and among languages"(p.63). Finally, translation helps learners to become "mediators between twolanguages and two cultures" (p.63).

The key concept of translation studies that inform the pedagogical translationframework is the notion of equivalence. The goal of translation is to createequivalence, yet translators often find it hard or even impossible to achieveabsolute equivalence due to the cultural differences between the source text andthe target text. Leonardi argues that translating a message from one languageinto 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 skillsbecause they have to analyze both meaning and form and decide what to translateand how (p.82). When translating, learners also need to examine the culturaldimension 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 formand integrates culture into language teaching. In this sense, the bookcontributes to the movement in second language teaching that rejects thepresumption of language as a skill detached from social historical contexts inwhich it is used.

However, this book is not without its faults. The link between theory andpractice is not quite clear. For example, after summarizing the linguistic,psychological, and social perspectives of SLA, Leonardi does not furtherhypothesize about the potential benefits of pedagogical translation according tothese SLA theories. The main argument of the book could be strengthened if shehad further discussed the theories that bear particular relevance for herpedagogical framework. From a linguistic perspective, for instance, translationactivities may help students understand the morphological, lexical, andsyntactical similarities and differences between L1 and L2, and thus may promotepositive transfer and reduce negative transfer. From a socioculturalperspective, discussing sample source and target texts in L2 can serve as ascaffolding activity and prepare students to write about similar topics or insimilar genres. Peer review of translation may promote interaction andmeta-language discussion among students. Of course, these hypothesized benefitsof translation must be tested through empirical studies conducted in foreignlanguage classrooms.

In conclusion, Leonardi's book on pedagogical translation addresses an emergingfield of language teaching in this increasingly globalized world. Leonardiproposes a potentially useful pedagogical framework for employing translation inforeign language teaching. It may be of interest to foreign language teacherswho share the same L1 with the students or have a substantial knowledge ofstudents' L1. Leonardi's review of mainstream SLA and translation theories makesthe book quite accessible to readers who are not familiar with SLA theories andtranslation. For the field of pedagogical translation to move forward, however,more theoretical work and empirical research are needed to gain insights intoits effectiveness in foreign language classrooms.

REFERENCESAnton, M. & DiCamilla, F. (1999). Socio-cognitive functions of L1 collaborativeinteraction in the L2 classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 83(2), 233-247.

Auerbach, E. (1993). Reexamining English only in the ESL classroom. TESOLQuarterly, 27(1), 9-32.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. The Canadian ModernLanguage Review, 57(3), 184-206.

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. (1997). Approaches and methods in languageteaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saville-Troike, M. (2006). Introducing second language acquisition. Cambridge,UK: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERJinjing Zhao is a Ph.D. candidate in Second Language Acquisition andTeaching, University of Arizona. She has a master's degree in Translationand Interpretation.

Page Updated: 25-Jun-2012