Should teachers TRANSLATE for their ESL students?


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For those people who are not native speakers or even ESL teachers, this question seems a no brainer. How can anyone ever learn the language without a translator around?


Research has shown that the less translation at the first stage of learning, the better. We human beings have an incredible capacity to acquire information and translation is just one of them. We use pictures, mannerisms, gestures, sounds, body language, tones, and many, many more things to decipher what something is. The brilliant ESL teacher will use all kinds of techniques to get the message through.

If a student is constantly given translation the learning of the language is much slower, as from that point on the student will constantly be translating themselves. Learning without translation means the information stays in the mind through experience and concepts which means that the learning is more meaningful.

This is one of the reasons why some employers only use native speaking teachers with no knowledge of the languages of the students in the class.

So what you think?



15 thoughts on “Should teachers TRANSLATE for their ESL students?

  1. I find monolingual classes hideously frustrating, especially in the early stages. I need explanations I can understand, a quick translation of an important word so I can move on to the next thing, rather than being left hanging in the air, wondering. Monolingual is fine at advanced stage, when all the basics are in place, and you need to push yourself to expand your comprehension and expressiveness, rather chickening out by falling back into another language.

    I don’t care what research says – for me, I need to keep my levels of frustration contained, or I learn NOTHING.

    • Thanks for your comment. I guess we are all different and need to find the classes that suit us. I know from my years of experience with the students we have in our language centre, they all come to us because they don’t want to get any of their mother language. And that is right from the start. From what I can see they learn at a very satisfying pace and by the time they finish their course they speak and understand English well.

      • When our students start most (though not all) know the ABCs and can greet each other (with ‘hi, how are you’) but not much more than that. They are called ‘false beginners’ which means they have learned some English at high school (1 hour a week) but have forgotten most of it.

        Plus of course our teachers who teach that level grade their teaching language right down to the kind of vocabulary they may understand, but there is still a lot of acting, and drawing and dancing around, but it all makes the lesson fun.

        Also of course the textbook we use is very suited to that level so there won’t be anything too difficult to understand.

        Yes true, it is best to get the class that suits you. Everyone is different.

  2. Hi. I think sometimes it is necessary to have some instruction provided in the L1 language; especially when you’re dealing with a group with a fragile psyche. Students already lacking in self-confidence and trying to overcome social programming (or a lack of broad social awareness) can become completely intimidated, withdrawn or defensive when confronted with language lesson absent of any instruction in their native tongue. It’s not something easily addressed if there’s a social stigma attached to the process. For Koreans, it’s more important that the interaction be pleasant, rather than whether it is conducted in L1 or L2, for students to be receptive. The culture students are learning in makes a big difference. If the culture at your centre is accommodating then your students are more inclined to be receptive; otherwise, they will shut down. The real question should be what kind of culture is compatible with language acquisition and how can that be instituted.

    • I think when it comes to social issues you really have a good point. No point in making things more difficult when life may not be easy already. Thanks for the input.

  3. Pingback: Using Spanish in the classroom | Matt's TEFL Blog

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