The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.
Have you noticed that interpreters have to possess the most thorough knowledge of a foreign language, especially of conversation, vocabulary and grammar? Perhaps foreign learners of English can achieve fluency in English also through oral translation from their native language into English. It is possible to check oneself this way when practicing speaking in English every sentence in ready-made materials with both native-language and English versions. I also believe that the value of oral translation from a native language into English with self-check is underestimated by English teaching specialists for self-study and self-practice of English conversation, vocabulary and grammar. Oral translation practice should cover English grammar, conversation, and vocabulary. Thematic dialogues, questions and answers on conversation topics, thematic texts (informative texts and narrative stories), grammatical usage sentences, and sentences with difficult vocabulary on various topics, especially with fixed phrases and idioms, can be used in practicing English through oral translation from one's native language into English.
My views on oral translation do not apply to classroom teaching and classroom learning of English when an ESL teacher teaches English to students from various ethnic backgrounds. In that setting, oral translation from a native language into English is simply impossible. All explanations of English pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary to learners from different ethnic backgrounds have to be done in English only at English classes. As you know there are English courses in English only for learning and practicing all four skills in one course in each lesson (listening, speaking, reading, and writing alongside pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary). Four-skill English courses include textbooks with audio and video recordings for all levels, including for beginners, and are suitable for self-study as well. There are also online English-learning courses in English only.
I firmly believe that oral translation from a native language into English is effective in practicing English speaking, vocabulary, and grammar on one's own with ready-made materials using self-check in a more logical, thorough, in-depth way as to content than casual talking to native-English speakers. practicing English on one's own through oral translation into English with self-check may be a quicker way for developing fluency in speaking English than casual talking to native-English speakers with limited content.
Of course, everyday long-term talking to native English speakers on a multitude of topics is a top priority and a paramount factor for developing good English-speaking skills by learners of English. Exercises in listening, speaking, and reading in English that also cover English pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and conversation on various topics belong to major English-learning and -teaching activities. I do not advocate oral translation into English as the only or the most important method in learning English grammar, vocabulary, and speaking.
However, self-study and practicing English on one's own are indispensable and substantially accelerate success in English. Communication with native-English speakers can't encompass all aspects of mastering English adequately and thoroughly, especially vocabulary, grammar, and the potential in-depth content of conversations suitable for the real-life needs of students for using English. It's possible and effective to practice English (including listening comprehension and speaking) on one's own through self-check using transcripts, books, and audio and video aids.
Oral translation into English allows speaking a wide variety of sentences on a multitude of topics with sophisticated important content (sentences) that are rarely widely used in daily life because of limited opportunity and limited content of communication of foreign learners with native speakers of English. Oral translation from a native language into English is very important and effective for foreign learners of English because oral translation into English creates solid additional extensive practice of English that is rarely possible in terms of comprehensive content in daily communication with native speakers of English.