Some Techniques for Developing Language Skills (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening Comprehension) through Translation in Mixed Groups of American and Russian Heritage Students

Alexander Burak, University of Florida

The presentation is based on my experience teaching Russian to large mixed groups of Russian and American heritage students at the University of Florida since August 2000. I have also written two translation textbooks based on the translation courses I taught at UF in the same period.

Problem: Finding ways of optimizing classroom teaching procedures involving large mixed groups of American and Russian students with varying levels of linguistic proficiency in Russian and English and different cultural backgrounds.

Aims: To use the above discrepancies to synergize classroom activities, improve students' reading and writing skills in Russian, to a lesser extent, improve their listening comprehension and speaking skills, develop their basic translation skills, and enhance their awareness of cross-cultural differences. In the process, culturally provoking materials are used, while the two distinct linguo-cultural contingents are encouraged to teach each other.

Purposes of the presentation: 1) to outline the teaching techniques used in the classroom, and 2) to describe the design of the two translation textbooks developed on the basis of the two written translation courses taught in the spring semesters of 2001 and 2002.

Main teaching techniques:

Students translate in writing a brief culturally controversial passage (from Russian into English or vice versa) at home and bring their translations to class for preliminary editing.

Individual students' variants of translation are discussed sentence by sentence in class, which provides different building materials for the students to make a final editing of their translations at home. Culture-specific elements of the texts and ways of conveying them in English and Russian are paid special attention to.

Use Russian and/or English as media of instruction, depending on the nature of the linguistic or translation problems being discussed.

Set final editing of the translations (following the detailed analysis of them in class) as homework to be e-mailed to the instructor by the next class.

During the next class, provide some additional linguistic and translation exercises and examples illustrating the difficulties that became apparent during the initial editing work in class and in the course of the instructor's checking the e-mailed translations.

Get the students to do a back/reverse interpretation of their translations in pairs, switching roles. Alternately, hand out copies of the translations you have been e-mailed to pairs of students (one translation for each pair), withholding the names of the translators and making sure that each pair gets an unfamiliar translation. Get the pairs of students to take turns at doing a back/reverse interpretation of the unfamiliar versions of the translation. Also, try to pair off Americans with Russians or stronger students with weaker ones.

The alternative reverse translation procedure described in item 6 may be preceded by an editing excersise whereby pairs of students first edit the unfamiliar translation to their satisfaction and then take turns at back translating. In this case, time should be reserved at the end of the session for pairs to air their editorial preferences.

Stimulate a general discussion, preferebly in Russian, but switching from Russian to English as necessary, of the cultural points dealt with in the text and try to relate them to the students' personal experience.

Keep a list of the students' typical language, stylistic and translation errors as reserve instructional material to be used as time permits.

The third period of the week may be reserved for completing the discussion of the translations and the general discussion of the cultural issues found in the texts, as well as for analyzing some typical errors made in the course of the work on the texts.

Textbook design:

To conclude the presentation, one unit each from the textbooks: A. Burak, A Practical Introduction to Written Translation from Russian into English. Stage 1: Word Level (Moscow: Intrada, 2002) and A. Burak,A Practical Introduction to Written Translation. Stage 2: Sentence and Paragraph Level (still in manuscript) will be used to illustrate the concepts underlying the course and the teaching techniques outlined above.