This is the fifth in a series of reflections and elaborations on Express Fluency 2017. If you haven’t yet, check out installment 1, on the skills of slowness and silence, installment 2, on making lemonade, i.e., capitalizing on would-be problems in class, installment 3, on brain UNbreaks, and installment 4, on getting something from nothing.
Used judiciously, choral translation can be an efficient tool for assessing comprehension, activating prior knowledge, boosting students’ confidence, cueing pop-up grammar lessons, and comparing languages.
What choral translation IS
Choral translation is a short reading/decoding task in which the teacher points to words in a projected text and students translate chorally and casually.
What choral translation IS NOT
- a literary translation activity
- a primary means of students’ internalizing the language
- firm proof of what students have or haven’t acquired
- something I recommend doing frequently*
- something I recommend doing with complex texts**
*I use choral translation a total of about five times over the course of any given student’s career, with almost all of these times coming in the first semester of year one.
**The structure of complex sentences in two different languages tends to be so mismatched that real-time oral translation can be extremely cumbersome (but see notes on word order and linguistic comparisons below).
What we get from choral translation
While the act of pronouncing an L1 word upon seeing a TL word won’t cause someone to acquire the language, choral translation creates a low-pressure context for several desirable effects. The following comments are tied to the embedded video, which shows part of a choral translation done near the start of day 2 of beginner Latin classes in Brattleboro in August. The text is a narrative we had generated while discussing various students’ interests on day 1.
- It’s an easy venue for pop-up grammar and language comparisons, which is part of ACTFL’s 5 “C” goals. You can see in the video that I sometimes do this as though revealing secret inside knowledge, and don’t make anywhere near the number of comparisons or points that the text could raise. Choral translation especially highlights differences in word order between L1 and TL. In general, simultaneously considering bite-size chunks of two languages can drive home the fact that different languages work differently and aren’t versions of each other.
- It can be used as a recap/reactivation of info and language from a previous class.
- It can build students’ confidence, helping them see what a high volume of text they can understand even after only brief exposure.
- It’s a handy bridge from students’ experiencing the language aurally/orally and in isolated phrases written on the board to experiencing it in paragraphs of continuous text.
- It’s easy enough that it can even function as a minor brain break–for teacher as well as students!
What I’m listening for + other insights
- I am listening for immediate responses from the entire class. When the response is thin or I hear a lot of variety in students’ translations, I go back to the beginning of the phrase or sentence. If the variations are all accurate and/or illustrate a difference between the two languages, I praise the students for how well they are conveying the meaning and point out that difference as an interesting tidbit, as in the video with the translations of Jason nihil audit as “Jason doesn’t hear anything,” “Jason isn’t hearing anything,” and “Jason hears nothing.”
- I keep students on their toes by not necessarily pointing at the next word–by pointing at an earlier word, for instance, or pointing at different occurrences of the same word throughout the text. This helps students see the same word or phrase in different contexts several times in quick succession. (I actually love hearing students keep right on going even when I haven’t advanced the pointer–it shows that they are tracking really well. Then I still have them return to the word I’m pointing at.)
- Can I tell 100% what is each student’s level of comprehension or participation in the translation? No. But those who are at less than 100% still get to hear what the other students and I say, and associate it with what is written.
- Though I usually use my hand or a stick to point at words written on the wall or board, I sometimes use a laser pointer from the back of the room during choral translation, so that I can observe individual students and gauge their response time and confidence.