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Evaluating translation as an explicit instruction tool to improve L2 written skills: An empirical study

Beatriz Pariente-Beltran, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Some have argued in favor of translation in the L2 classroom (Danchev, 1983; Levenston, 1985; Ballester Casado, 1991; Newson, 1998; Malloy, 2001; Bonyadi, 2003; Colina, 2006; Kulwindr, 2005; Petrocchi, 2006; House, 2008), while others have argued against it (Sweet, 1899/1964; Jespersen, 1901/1904; Lado, 1957, 1964; Gatenby, 1967; Sankey, 1991), mainly due to its association with the Grammar-Translation Method and the Contrastive Analysis Theory. However, there is limited empirical research evaluating this. The goal of this study is to evaluate the effect of translation tasks in L2 written production. I conducted an experiment with 104 college-students enrolled in a Spanish Advanced Grammar course. The independent variables were type of instruction (explicit vs. implicit) and translation (translation vs. without translation). Four sections of this course were randomly assigned to a group condition: IIG-T (implicit instruction group with translation), IIG-WT (implicit instruction group without translation), EIG-T (explicitinstruction group with translation), EIG-WT (explicit instruction group without translation). Students completed a pretest to assess their proficiency level in writing cover letters. Each condition was given a different step-by-step activity on how to write cover letters. Finally, they wrote a cover letter in Spanish serving as the posttest and composition of the course and they completed a qualitative questionnaire. Data was evaluated via three domains: vocabulary, grammar and discourse, where L2 performance was operationalized as the total number of errors using the same evaluation for both the pretest and posttest. A two-way ANOVA estimated the effect by comparing the aggregated change score (difference between pretest and posttest totals) across the translation and instruction conditions, and also comparing each domain individually. Results indicated that explicit instruction had a significant effect on aggregated change scores and also on discourse change scores. The use or lack of translation and implicit instruction did not have a significant effect on vocabulary and grammar. Therefore, we can still infer that translation was not detrimental for students' L2 acquisition. It will be crucial to implement other empirical studies that involve not only a longitudinal approach but also longer exposure to translation tasks.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Foreign Language

Recommended Citation

Pariente-Beltran, Beatriz, "Evaluating translation as an explicit instruction tool to improve L2 written skills: An empirical study" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589127.