This post was written by Matthew Clark

Let’s revisit the topic of native language use in the ESL classroom. For many of our English students, translation is a fact of life. The reasons for this will vary from student to student, and it is our job as instructors to identify those reasons and create authentic activities to allow students to practice translating.

For example, a student may work in a company, or own a company, and may be preparing to do business internationally. This means translating emails from English for their boss or colleagues, or perhaps even translating an entire portfolio of PR and sales materials. If this is the case, giving students opportunities to translate similar documents in the classroom makes perfect sense.

Other ESL students may plan to travel abroad, accompanied by someone less proficient than they are. Your student will likely become the interpreter for their companion. Feel free to practice this in the classroom by setting up an activity with three or four people, in which at least two are required to speak in separate languages while the others translate.

For example, have one student role play a server in a restaurant, speaking entirely in English. The second student will play the role of the travel companion who has a limited capacity in English and therefore uses their mother tongue. The third student will be the interpreter, helping the waiter to take the order and the friend to give their order.

You can extend this activity to allow for translation back and forth between languages. Choose four students, and have the first one explain a topic in their mother tongue. The second student will translate that explanation into English and hand it to the third student, who translates it back into the native language. The final step is to let the fourth student translate the message one more time into English. Now compare the English translations. This can be done as many times as you like, depending on the size of your classroom.