Curriculum & Materials, Educator Insights

Are We Different People in Different Languages?

I read an article, Are We Different People in Different Languages? a few weeks ago, and it was chock full of interesting ideas. I shared an article a little while ago that has similar themes to this one, but I wanted to share this one as well because along with some fascinating theoretical discussion (and a mention of Mikhail Bakhtin, one of my favorite theorists!), it includes a neat assignment dealing with translation that could perhaps be explored in our own classrooms.

The assignment is for students to translate a poem or short piece of writing from their L2 into their native language, or from their native language into their L2. After doing so, the students talk together about the experience and what they learned about the nature of both languages through the process.

I like the idea of this activity because as the article notes, “The assignment allows students to write a few original verses (without realizing it), meet a new poet on his terms, and experience the bewildered state that millions of immigrants know so well: the struggle to understand and make one’s self understood.”

The article even outlines how this activity might be used even in mixed classes with both bilingual and monolingual students. Monolingual students may be given another constraint; not being allowed to use certain letters or verbs. The resulting difficulty in trying to capture the essence of the poem mirrors the struggle many language learners face in expressing themselves, so it can become a lesson in empathy and understanding for the those who daily experience that struggle.

This quote from the article sums up the type of situation that can be explored and better understood through such a class assignment/activity:

I want to write a story about a woman who is trying to say important things, but cannot,” one of my Chinese exchange students recently told me. She was trying to express what it feels like to have a vibrant intelligent inner life that cannot yet be fully expressed in the elementary constructions of a new language.

How can translation activities be used in your classroom to creatively express value for both your students’s native language and their L2?








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Contributing Author

Abigail Long is a 2012 graduate of Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and a member of Fairview Ave Brethren in Christ Church in Waynesboro, PA. She spent 14 months teaching English in South Korea at the Connexus Language Institute and is deeply interested in the connections between language learning, teaching and peacebuilding.

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