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Extending Translation as a Generative Construct

We suggest a few activities that are designed to connect language brokering experiences to academic language skills across subject matter. We hope these will inspire you to identify other ways to connect to the material you teach.

Translation in different genres 

  • Have students explain something to two different audiences: one audience that is familiar with the thing being explained, and one that is not. Examine the difference in these explanations. Have students identify where additional background information may be required.
  • Have students write reports (recounts) to different audiences: one that shared in the experience and one that did not. Call attention especially to where the shared background information shaped the specificity of details in the report.

You can involve students in a lesson where they examine college applications (source internet for models) how do these people represent themselves in this application? What is important and why? Link this to situations where students have helped others to fill out relevant and important information in applications (loans, assistance etc.)

Translation across genres

Have students “translate” an explanation into an argument (modeling on Lesson? above). For example, ask them to explain immigration reform (or some topic you are covering in class) and then argue for or against it.

Translation within subject matter

Have students translate subject matter texts for different audiences, or write subject matter reports for two or more different audiences.

Translation across subject matter

Have students “translate” a science concept into a mathematical equation, a poem, or a dance. Discuss how to stay true to the concept but conform to the expectations of the subject matter or discipline. What choices do I have to make to communicate in this subject matter?

Translation in a different medium 

Have students translate an idea into a different media, from words to images, from text message to face-to-face conversation, or from radio to TV. Have them discuss how different characteristics of each medium can influence the message.

The possibilities are endless

The point, however is not simply to have students do this translation work, but to connect this school-focused translation work to their skills and experiences as everyday language brokers, and to use the collective sets of experiences to expand their repertoires of linguistic practice. This may help students to grow in metalinguistic awareness and to cultivate transcultural dispositions. Thus it is important to help them to reflect on and analyze both how and why they change their language as they move across genres, subject matter/disciplines, and audiences.

Finally, whenever possible, we also encourage you to make specific references to students’ experiences and explicit connections between the skills and knowledge demanded in language brokering situations and those demanded at school. You can also draw connections to subject specific material. For example, you might initiate an economics class discussion with this scenario: “When Estela helped her father to fill out a credit card application, she had to distinguish between her father’s gross annual income and his net annual income. Let’s talk about what these terms mean.” 

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