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Translation and Language Education

Pedagogic approaches explored


Sara Laviosa


Translation Practices Explained Series

Abingdon & New York: Routledge, 2014

Paperback. xi+174 p. ISBN 978-1138789890. £26.99


Reviewed by Susan Pickford

Université Paris-Sorbonne



Translation is something of a recent development as a specialist field of research, and as such it is a rather poor relation in the French Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) university classroom, often taught by non-specialists whose pedagogical methods draw largely on the teaching they themselves received. This has led to a certain degree of stasis in classroom methodologies, which are still heavily reliant on Vinay and Darbelnet's classification of translation techniques, now well over half a century old, and there is little attempt to establish clear teaching objectives and learning outcomes. The teaching methods described by Juliane House as “very frustrating for the students” back in 1980 are still common practice:

The teacher […] passes out a text (the reason for the selection of this text is usually not explained, because it is often a literary essay that the teacher has just “found” by accident). The text is full of traps, which means that the teachers do not set out to train students in the complex and difficult art of translation, but to ensnare them and lead them into error. The text is then prepared […] then the whole group goes through the text sentence by sentence, with each sentence being read by a different student. The instructor […] finally presents the sentence in its final, “correct” form.(1)

Translation teaching in French MFL departments is all too often pedagogically unimaginative. This is problematic given the increasing diversity of student profiles, with MFL students being well placed to take advantage of international exchange programmes such as Erasmus. The presence of native speakers in the translation classroom offers real opportunities for developing innovative teaching methods, but these are rarely exploited. There are, however, signs that the situation may be about to change: senior lecturer profiles in translation studies are becoming commoner, while the recent manual by Corinne Wecksteen-Quinio, Mickaël Mariaule and Cindy Lefebvre-Scodeller La traduction anglais-français (Louvain-la-Neuve: De Boek, 2015) acknowledges that “la plupart des manuels de traduction disponibles s'appuient, ouvertement ou non, sur une conception et une terminologie datées” that the authors set out to bring up to date.

Translation teaching in French universities would have much to learn from engaging with the considerable body of research into translation and MFL pedagogy developed in other countries by scholars such as Juliane House, Dorothy Kelly and Guy Cook. Sara Laviosa's Translation and Language Education : Pedagogic approaches explored aims to offer an accessible way in to the topic for newcomers to the field. Laviosa is senior lecturer in English and Translation at the University of Bari Also Moro, Italy. Her book, published in Routledge's Translation Theories Explored series, sets out to draw on “the revival of translation as a means of learning and teaching a foreign language and as a skill in its own right” by developing “a translation-based pedagogy that is grounded in theory and has been applied in real educational contexts” [back cover]. It aims to foster dialogue between translation and language teaching, raising translation's status from mere adjunct to acquiring the traditional four main language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking to a major language skill in its own right. Laviosa draws on her own extensive classroom experience to explore the place of translation in MFL teaching and to develop her own holistic approach to using translation as a language teaching tool.

The book is relatively short (145 pages + appendices). It contains eight chapters, a conclusion, several appendices of teaching material and research questionnaires, and a bibliography. Chapter one offers a historical overview of how translation has been used in MFL teaching since the eighteenth century. Laviosa acknowledges [23] that the chapter is based largely on one source – Howatt and Widdowson's History of English Language Teaching – making it perhaps rather limited in scope: a comparative analysis of traditions across different countries and language pairs might have proved illuminating. Chapter two, entitled “The Revival of Translation”, focuses on the theoretical considerations in favour of using translation in the MFL classroom and summarises the results of past surveys of its effectiveness as a teaching tool, with the conclusion that translation is “a cognitive aid to second language acquisition […] a useful addition to the language teacher toolkit” as it “enhances grammatical accuracy and diversifies the range of skills developed through language learning” [34]. Chapter three narrows the focus from a broad survey of the field to a set of methodologies that Laviosa finds particularly stimulating: ecological approaches that consider language as an ecosystem with which students must learn to interact.

Chapters four and five then engage with two particular theories within the ecological paradigm: Claire Kramsch's multilingual language pedagogy and Maria Tymoczko's holistic cultural translation. Kramsch's approach consists of developing competence in reading language as a “system of potent symbols” [61] as a means of developing competence as a multilingual subject in an “increasingly global migratory world” [65] with the ability to understand and compare the cultural memories and semiotic diversity embedded in various languages. In this reading, translation is an effective means of exploring the relationships between various sign systems [70]. Tymoczko's holistic approach looks beyond the familiar metaphor of translation as transfer to understand it as an “open, cluster concept with blurred edges” in which each group overlaps with others to form transcultural clusters with family resemblances [78] based on representation, transmission, and transculturation.

Chapter six then moves on to the common ground between Kramsch's work, which is rooted in an MFL teaching perspective, and Tymoczko's work in Translation Studies. Laviosa terms the crossover between the two “holistic pedagogic translation”. The chapter analyses a case of real-world translation practice – Isabella Vaj's Italian version of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel The Kite Runner – as an example of a holistic approach to translation issues, heralding the possibility of “a cooperative learning environment where developing symbolic competence and adopting holistic translation methods are essential interrelated processes” [105]. This is the precursor to Laviosa's own proposal for a new holistic pedagogy, outlined in two case studies in chapters seven and eight, which detail how she applied her own methodology in an Italian and an American classroom respectively, guiding the students in workshops exploring documents with multimodal messages consisting of music, images, and text, the aim being “to explore the creation of meaning through the interplay of different forms of communication, including translation” [108]. The work concludes with a brief overview of recent work in the area of translation pedagogy and possible future avenues of enquiry aimed at furthering interdisciplinary research on the place of translation in the MFL classroom.

Translation and Language Education offers a fresh perspective on the potential synergies between language teaching and translation. Laviosa's teaching methodology appears particularly suited to multilingual classes in which the emphasis is not on a given language pair but on the meta-skills required for translation. While occasionally heavy on jargon and overly extended examples (the quote on pp. 53-56 being a case in point), it remains a valuable and thought-provoking addition to the literature on the place of translation in language teaching. What Laviosa suggests differs radically from current teaching practices in the French academy. While it is doubtless too much to hope that her work might inspire a revolution in undergraduate thème and version classes, her methodology would be a valuable source of inspiration for specialist seminars at any one of the numerous postgraduate translation courses to have opened in French universities in recent years.


(1) Quoted in Dorothy Kelly, A Handbook for Translator Trainers. Manchester: St. Jerome, 2012 : 97.


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