CH 3: From One Language to the Next: Why is it hard to learn a second language? Why is translation so
• There are important differences btw acquiring a first language—a process that happens
naturally to any child who is not linguistically deprived—and learning a second.
• Scholars debate whether or not the cognitive faculties that are employed in second language
learning are distinct from those employed in first language acquisition, and much of the
evidence suggests that they are.
• First, anyone who is learning a second language has already acquired a first language, so the
language mechanism in the brain has already had certain linguistic parameters (such as word
order) set, making the task quite different.
o One needs to learn the specific rules of the 2 language—often called the target
o The first language typically serves as the model, and errors often result from taking words
from the target language and stringing them together by applying rules from the first
o Ex. If the first language is English, and the target language is Japanese, a second
language learner might position the Japanese verb btw the subject and the object of the
sentence, using the English word order, rather than placing the verb after the object, which
is correct Japanese word order.
o The greater the difference btw the first language and the target language, the more tasks
are involved in learning the latter.
o Second language learning can even be characterized as a gradual shift from the first
language orientation to the target language orientation.
• Second, the first language acquisition takes place in early childhood (by the age of 5) and
typicndly can’t take place after that critical period.
o 2 language learning, especially in a classroom setting, proceeds more quickly with adults
and adolescents than with younger children initially, although ultimately the younger child
will become more proficient in the 2 language than the adolescent/adult. Second
language learning proceeds more quickly with people who have a high proficiency in their
• Third, whereas first language acquisition happens without conscious teaching, second
language learning generally does not. Thus, the process is distinct.
o Self-confidence, motivation, good self-image, and low anxiety are traits that improve facility
in a 2 language, but none of these traits is important to 1 language acquisition.
• Fourth, the complexity of the input affects second language learning but not first language
o First language acquisition proceeds at the same rate whether or not adults simplify their
language. If a 2 language learner has a teacher who talks in the target language at a
quick rate, in complex sentences & about complicated matters, the learner will have a
harder time initially than if simpler constructions are presented about matters that don’t
involve a lot of decision making or mental judgment.
• Fifth, practice is important for second language learning but not so much for first language
acquisition. Even very quiet children acquire their first language at the ordinary rate.
• The two processes have some things in common:
o Exposure to ordinary language is important, just as it is in first language acquisition,
although it can help if that language is a little bit slower and less complex initially.
So, second language learning proceeds more quickly if the target language is used as
the medium of instruction.
o Conversations are more like the ordinary language one is exposed to in first language
acquisition than are memorization drills and the like.
1 CH 3: From One Language to the Next: Why is it hard to learn a second language? Why is translation so
So, second language learning is more successful when richly interactive language is
used in the classroom. Instructional conversations are better teaching tools than
memorization drills or lectures and recitations.
• “Traduttori, traditori” “Translators, traitors”: Translation can never be perfect, so anyone who
translates necessarily betrays the original.
• The word translate can refer to different meanings:
o Intralingual translation = the word translate is used to refer to an explanation through
rewording within a language. Rewording a sentence for someone to understand the
o Intersemiotic translation = here the word translate refers to an interpretation of one
medium in another. Such as expressing a dance as a translation of a poem.
o Interlingual translation = interpreting from one human language into another human
This sense of translation is the one most relevant to second language learning
• When translating a variety of texts, sometimes the only real job is to transmit factual
information grammatically. Translating such texts is a matter of strict adherence to the
(perceived) intended informational message of the original author.
o The translator can easily ignore the style of the original text without much threat of
o Translating poetry takes into consideration a wider range of factors and true facility in a
second language entails recognition of these factors.
• There are various types of poetry translations
o Some of them are similar to the approach used in translating factual texts, such as
instructions, in that they do not consider all of the factors present in the original.
o Jandl focused on the importance of sound in poetry. He developed the art of “surface
translation,” whereby the sounds of a poem in one language would be rendered into
another—using words native to the target language/nonsense words in the target language
—without regarding meaning
When the 2 languages differ in their sound inventories (as most languages do), the
closest approximation is acceptable.
Rilke’s poem: Der Tod ist groB. Wir sind die Seinen
Surface translation: Dare toadies gross Vere sinned designing
Word-by-word: the death is big we are the his
• Holistic translation is more pertinent to second language learning
• Pg. 37-43: Translate a Dutch poem into English
o It’s apparent that even something as simple as a nursery rhyme—and even translating btw
two languages as close as English and Dutch—offers serious challenges to the
o Should significant or repeated e