chapter  10
21 Pages

L1–L2 translation versus no translation: A longitudinal study of focus-on-formS within a meaning-focused curriculum


Translation as a pedagogical tool represents a focus-on-formS activity since target structures have been selected in advance for deliberate attention in the L2 classroom (Ellis, 2005). Although focus-on-formS approaches have fallen out of favor, translation can be a suitable awareness-raising and learning activity particularly for advanced learners who may be aiming for a career where a translation competency is relevant (such as teaching, or professional translation and interpreting). This chapter reports on the results of a longitudinal, experimental study carried out with advanced L2 learners of English within an authentic educational program. The effects on L2 morphosyntactic accuracy of engaging in two different focus-onformS classroom learning activities were investigated: (i) L1-to-L2 translation activities versus (ii) fill-in-the-blank and transformation exercises. Both instructional regimes targeted the same set of relatively sophisticated English structures of the kind that challenge advanced native Swedish-speaking learners. The instructional treatment lasted for 13 weeks and was provided within one of the English courses the students took during the semester, namely a course in English grammar. Thus, the overall curriculum was communicative and the focus-on-formS activities were used only judiciously and in the context of the grammar course. The learners were Swedish (L1) university-level learners of English (L2), who had had nine or ten years of classroom exposure to English prior to taking part in the study. They were randomly assigned to two different groups, and a comparison meaning-only group was also added to the design. The effects of the two types of focus-on-formS exercises were measured by pre-tests (in week 1) and post-tests (in week 13). Results indicate that (i) the “translation group” students showed greater gain from pre-test to post-test when translating from L1 to L2; the difference in gain between “translation group” and “no-translation group” was not significant, but approached significance (p = 0.07); (ii) the “no-translation group” students showed somewhat greater gain from pre-test to post-test when doing a written retelling task directly in L2; and (iii) both focus-on-formS groups outperformed the meaning-only comparison group, at least on these relatively controlled measures of L2 grammatical knowledge.