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A Fun Translation Exercise


A Fun Translation Exercise

Matthew, a 5th-grader, is excited to be enrolled in Carmenta's Latin 1A class


By Maria Luisa De Seta, Ph.D.

Many of us already know about the benefits of learning a foreign language and perhaps also about the particular benefits of learning Latin and Greek, but we also should try to help students enjoy their learning experience, including the act of translation, which is the way we connect with the minds of the past. As a teacher of Latin and Ancient Greek, I always look for exercises that can make the practice of the translation challenging and fun for my students. Yes, translation can be fun!

Of course, translation shouldn’t remain a mere exercise in grammar irrelevant to linguistic, cultural, and anthropological reflections: it should involve all fields of knowledge and the knowledge of history and culture, as well. One of the many benefits of the Wheelock’s Latin text is the opportunity to engage students in discussion about literature, mythology and culture, starting from the Sententiae Antiquae and the reading sections at the end of the chapters. Students like discovering a connection with the past and being able to understand ancient texts in the context of the present.

However, it is also necessary to add some fun to the translation practice, and I personally believe that advanced students in particular can enjoy the experience of a translation that involves some measure of creativity and wordplay. I will sometimes ask a group of students to translate the same passage in different ways: perhaos as a rhyming poem, or as text for a rap song (it works pretty well with love poems). Students are excited and their work excellent. In order to make this activity productive and successful, I have come up with a series of steps.

1) First, the reading of the text must be preceded by a general analysis of the cultural context and by the reading of related texts (previous passages, for example, or short summaries of the historical context or about the author). This activity gets students interested and proves to be very useful for developing a general understanding of the text. The word “translate” literally means “transport” (cf. Latin trans-ducere) from one language into another language, and this “transporting” requires a deep understanding of the text.

2) Once the introductory phase is complete, students are provided with the text that they are to translate. Students analyze the text as a group, giving special attention to vocabulary.

3) At this point, students are ready to begin their own translations: they might translate in small groups or individually, translating the same passage in rhyme or as a song, perhaps in a dialect or slang, or using acronyms. It is important, though, that students work on different kinds of translation: once they are done, they compare their translations with those of their peers. Comparing the original text with their own translations, they are now able to fully appreciate and evaluate the translations of others.

What are the benefits of this sort of approach? First of all, in order to translate in this manner, students are required to master the original, gaining a deep knowledge of the chosen text and all its various cultural implication, but also about related texts. They learn how to evaluate and look critically at the translations of others, thinking at the same time about their own translation choices. But more than this, they come to realize that an ancient text is in fact still alive and that there is no one unique translation for it: as long as the information is not misread, there are always various interpretations and actualizations of a single test.

In short, I think that the best way to help students appreciate the act of translaing ancient books is to let them have fun with it!


Maria Luisa De Seta
Dr. Maria Luisa De Seta is a native of Italy who received her Ph.D. in Literary Criticism from the University of Calabria in Cosenza, Italy. She has considerable experience teaching both ancient (Latin and Greek) and modern (Italian and German) languages, with numerous degrees and certifications for both. Dr. De Seta is currently teaching Italian as a Second Language in an Italian immersion school in San Francisco and teaches Latin, Latin Conversation, Ancient Greek, Italian, and German for Carmenta Online PhD Tutors.

Click here to see Dr. De Seta’s full profile on the Carmenta Faculty Page.



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