What is the value of L1-to-L2 translation for advanced learners?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceedingpeer-review


This paper presents findings from a longitudinal, experimental project investigating the effect of translation on the morphosyntactic accuracy of advanced Swedish (L1) learners of English (L2). The subjects were first-year students of English at a Swedish university. The curriculum was communicative and translation (Focus-on-Forms) was used judiciously.

The research is couched in cognitive psychology and the hypothesis that translation, involving a comparison between the L1 and L2, would lead to more elaborate processing than forms-focused exercises directly in L2, which involve no such comparison. More elaborate processing should result in enhanced memory retention (as discussed by Hummel 1995). The use of the L1 has recently had a revival in the instruction of very advanced L2 learners, also in light of Cook’s work on Multicompetence.

Two main research questions are addressed:

Do students who have been exposed to translation exercises perform equally well on morphosyntactic accuracy in English as students who have done exercises in English only (but targeting the same structures) in writing a) when translating a text from Swedish into English, and b) when writing directly in English?

Is the classroom interaction that develops when translation exercises are used similar to the interaction engendered by target-language-only exercises?

Two groups were exposed to different exercises as part of their first-term course in English grammar. The exercises targeted relatively sophisticated English structures of the kind that challenge Swedish learners. The ‘translation group’ did translation exercises, whereas the ‘non-translation group’ completed exercises in English only, but targeting the same structures the same number of times. Both groups were taught by the same teacher for fifteen weeks. Identical pretests and posttests were used, as well as a short test in week 3 which measured the learning of one type of structure taught in the previous week.

For research question 2, the classroom interaction that developed in three groups was audiotaped. The purpose was to see whether the classroom interaction shows signs of students’ being engaged in more elaborate processing when exposed to translation exercises. The third group was an intact group of students of similar age and backgrounds that was taught the same grammar course with the combined use of translation exercises and exercises in the L2 only. By including this third group it was possible to investigate how exercise type affected classroom interaction within the same group.

Hummel, K. 1995. “Translation and Second Language Learning. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 51, 444-455.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature

Free keywords

  • L2 learning
  • translation
  • advanced learners
  • experimental
  • longitudinal
  • SoTL


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