Monica Migliarotti

Profesora de inglés certificada

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To translate or not translate: this is the question

Today's post is a reflection about whether to make use of the language spoken by the student you are teching English to or not. My personal and humble opinion is that especially at the beginning it's good to cut some slack to the student and help him with some translation because he's not going to understand all of what you teach no matter how much effort you put in it. When you can't explain it or the student doesn't understand and you know the relevant word in his or her language it might be worth helping him or her because from my personal experience insisting too much makes some students lose interest. On the other hand do we need to translate everything? I really don't think so. 

A simple example: Musicals are traditionally in English. When musicals started touring in other countries they were represented in the original form.  A couple of decades ago musicals started to be produced and represented everywhere in the country's language keeping the original format but translating every dialogue and also every song. The result? mmmm. 
Imagine if we translated opera from its original language ( Italian, French, German etc) into English, Swedish or Thai . Would it have the same effect? 
Or as a yoga teacher I can see the mesmerising effect singing mantras in Sanskrit can have on students. Maybe because they don't know the meaning or if they do it just sounds better. Would it sound so sacred and spiritual in another language? Who knows.  But that's the beauty of language. Explain what it means: yes, translate: maybe not. At least not everything. Even the oddest sounding language has something fascinating. One of my favorite songs I use in my yoga classes is by a Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Well even before reading the translation I would find myself singing to the Vietnamese lyrics probably with a very poor outcome but still. 
I understand the marketing logic behind musicals and also the film dubbing industry but I am a firm believer of the original versions (obviously with subtitles for many languages). This is why I believe that it's better to watch movies in the original language with the real voice of the actors and observe more of their body language even if you don't understand the words (even if you do with subtitles anyway). I was thinking about this the other day when I brought my 4 years old daughter to see Disney on Ice and realized that all of the main Disney movie themes have been translated in most languages and in Spain for example Elsa from Frozen sings "Sueltalo" instead of "Let it go". As much as I like the Italian version of classical Disney movies that remind me of my childhood I have to admit that the original version is always the real thing.  
I know kids would be more attracted to a language they know but when my daughter, who is only starting now to speak English, sings Elsa's song saying "decolneverbodermieniuei" instead of "the cold never bothered me anyway" I melt. She doesn't know what it means of course but she will learn. There is always time: Let it go. 
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