Grammar workout: Reverse Translation

This activity is the grammar equivalent of a full-body workout in the gym. It’s a meaty activity that will take you some time to do properly. But, like all good things…

It will test every facet of your grammatical knowledge in the target language, highlight your weaknesses and show you in what areas you can improve. If you currently find yourself at a plateau in your learning, this activity will give you a wake-up call and a cold, hard look at the current state of your level in the language.

‘Enjoy!’ 🙂

Reverse translation

1. Find a short article or other piece of writing in your target language that is more or less ‘at your level’; neither too challenging nor too easy. It could be a recording, but choose something that is already transcribed so you don’t have to spend time on that. Make sure that you’re comfortable with most of the grammatical usage in the text – if there’s a lot grammar that you don’t understand, choose something else.

Note: it doesn’t matter if there is unknown vocabulary – we’re focusing on grammar here.

2. Translate the text into your mother tongue on a separate piece of paper.

Do not translate word-for-word; focus on capturing the real meaning as closely as possible, as if you were translating a novel. Use a dictionary for unknown words. You shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out any meaning, because you’ve chosen something where you understand the grammar. Right? 🙂

(Note: If there’s a really interesting text that’s beyond your level, like an article on a blog, you could always use a website translation services company to do it for you… just to get you started!)

3. You now have a short text written in your mother tongue. Put it aside and take a rest!

4. Put the original text (the one in the target language) away in a drawer where you won’t see it.

5. Now, working from your translation, translate the text back into the target language, without referring to the original! Use a dictionary as much as you need, but don’t, whatever you do, refer to the original.

6. When finished, compare the two versions in the target language: the original and your fresh (re)translation. Focus on the grammatical differences between the two. Where you have expressed something differently to the original, look at the differences in grammar.

Depending on the difficulty of the text that you chose relative to your level, there may be a few differences or there may be many. Chances are there will be a lot. The reason is simple – our understanding is often much better than what we can produce on our own. What these difference before you show is the areas of grammar you are less capable in and need to brush up!

Now you can dust off your grammar reference book and read up on those areas!

Good luck – it’s a tough one but well worth the effort.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you got out of the activity!

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  • Kieran Maynard

    Going to try this!

  • Cool – hope it helps, Kieran!