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Translation and Own-language Activities

Price: £28.80
Practical ideas for using students' own languages within the language classroom. Translation and Own-language Activities provides structured, practical advice and guidance for using students' own languages within ELT classrooms.
Author(s): Philip Kerr

Review from English Teaching professional 95

"Two things about the title of this timely book are worth pointing out. Firstly, following Guy Cook (Translation in Language Teaching, OUP 2010) the author uses the term own language in preference to mother tongue, native language or L1. Secondly, own language (OL) use is often equated with translation, but the title makes it clear that OL use does not necessarily entail translation.

In Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’, beginning with the observation that the ‘use of the learner’s own language in language teaching is a contentious issue’, Kerr reviews the history of the use and non-use of OL in language teaching. He convincingly counters the arguments, prejudices and misunderstandings which have led to the widespread rejection of OL as a useful contributor to the learning process, and adduces a number of reasons why OL use should be at least tolerated, and sometimes encouraged. This introductory chapter repays careful reading, and is especially recommended for anyone who is still sceptical about the value of translation and OL in language teaching and learning.

Chapter 2, ‘Techniques’, describes general ways in which OL can be used in the course of teaching: in the service of classroom management, preparation for speaking activities, as a remedy for fatigue and lack of concentration, and so on.

Chapter 3, ‘Attitudes’, includes activities to elicit the learners’ attitudes to OL use and to negotiate class rules for when, why and how much OL may be used during lessons.

Chapter 4, ‘Tools’, has activities for learners to share, experiment with and evaluate the proliferating range of bilingual and bilingualised dictionaries, translation tools and other resources available in print and online.

Chapter 5, ‘Reverse translation’, presents eight variations on the time-honoured procedure of translating into OL and then back into the target language, or vice-versa.

The 17 activities in Chapter 6, ‘Language skills’, show how translation and OL can be used to support work on the four skills, and the 14 activities in Chapter 7, ‘Language focus’, suggest ways of integrating translation and OL in work on lexis and grammar.

The activities are annotated according to which of three broad types of classes they can be used with:


  • Type A: The teacher can only use English; the learners have no shared language.
  • Type B: The teacher can only use English; the learners have a shared language.
  • Type C: The learners have a shared language, which the teacher can also use.
The Appendix contains outlines of two teacher-training seminars on the topic of the book, one for pre-service teachers and one for in-service teachers.


In a book such as this, it is clearly  impossible to provide other-language samples which are relevant to every possible reader. Nevertheless, the OL lexical samples and texts are almost all from Romance languages (especially French) and German; this is a rather narrow selection of languages, and it would have been useful to cast the net wider.

No doubt, some teachers will recognise some of the activities as things they already do, perhaps without thinking about it. Others will welcome the broad range of options presented for making principled and effective use of translation and OL. Others still may be shocked by some of the suggested activities, but hopefully, even they will be persuaded, by the descriptions of the activities themselves and by the words of wisdom in the ‘Introduction’ and the introductory sections of the chapters, to dip their toes in the water and begin to exploit the resources of their learners’ languages."


Jonathan Marks
Leba, Poland


ISBN: 9781107645783
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication: 27 March 2014
Philip Kerr is a teacher trainer, lecturer and writer who lives in Vienna. Originally from London, his first involvement in language teaching was in a Moroccan high school in the 1980s. He later concentrated on teacher training and spent five years as Director of Studies at International House London. He now works as a lecturer and in-service trainer in many countries around the world. His publications include the coursebook series 'Straightforward'.