Fear Not English Writing; Use Translation
Professor Lee Mun-woo (Department of English Language Education)
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Learning a second language is laborious as one can recall the horrors of attempting to write for the first time using the foreign language. Out of the four skills of language (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), writing skills are thought of as the most difficult to master. That is why most English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes leave out the writing until the last.
Nevertheless, Professor Lee Mun-woo (Department of English Language Education) argues that no exposure to writing at the early stage merely indicates that the hardest task is procrastinated to the later stage. “I figured that, instead, we should allow the beginners to face the writing but with little help from their first language.” In her paper, ‘Translation revisited for low-proficiency EFL writers,’ Lee proposes a case for a successful method in teaching EFL writing: namely, a translation method.
Lee held a three-semesters-long action research, personally teaching thirteen middle and high school students, all of whom had very low levels of English proficiency. “By low-proficiency, I mean that some students could barely read and write in English,” she recalled. At first, students were told to create their own stories, written in Korean. Those were then translated into English by the students themselves. Initially, they were not allowed to use their dictionaries. “It was a very difficult process. Students would write ‘I…’ and nothing more came out.” After that, they were allowed to discuss in groups. Although none had a sufficient knowledge of English, some unexpectedly accurate suggestions emerged from time to time. On the last stage, they completed their writings with the peers' feedback and the one-to-one writing conference with the teacher.
Lee analyzed the collected data, her notes, and the students’ written pieces. The outcome was significant. “The participating students showed clear improvements in both their confidence and their actual capacity for English writing,” remarked Lee. Students, who at the start stopped at inserting English words into the slots of the corresponding Korean words, started to be aware of the change in verb tenses, the English word order, and even of the appropriate uses of the ing-verb form and to-verb form.
Lee clearly remembers the simultaneously growing confidence of her students. They often said, "I was afraid of English writing before – now, I feel like I can manage. I’m not scared anymore." She projects that the translation method could bring about a meaningful effect, especially in the English classrooms in Korea. For this, a follow-up study is being conducted; this time, however, the study will target students at a higher English proficiency.
Lee says her aim is to build an EFL education model for Koreans. “Although having English-proficiency is important in Korean, most Korean EFL classes do not have a teaching method specifically adjusted for Korean students. Thus, many Koreans are troubled with learning. This study is meaningful in that it sets the first stepping stone toward developing a Korean-specific EFL teaching method, especially for those who are the most marginalized inside the classes.”
Lim Ji-woo firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kang Cho-hyun
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