Bilingual Dictation

Page No.: 
Shaun Gates


  • Key Words: Integrated Four Skills
  • Learner English Level: All, especially Beginner to Intermediate
  • Learner Maturity Level: Junior High school to adult
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes
  • Activity Time: one hour in two classes

Dictation is an evergreen favourite with teachers. It is quick to set up and comes in many forms. This variation combines dictation with translation, and is suitable for students with the same mother tongue. The dictation part is organised so that you can assess the speech of ten to twelve students. The translation section is useful when your class has to tackle a difficult reading passage, perhaps from a set textbook, or when you wish to push them a bit.


Preparation: Choose an interesting reading passage around 500 words long that contains grammar or vocabulary you would like your students to learn. It might be a reading exercise from their textbook or an article you have copied to hand out. This should give you enough work for at least sixty minutes. In your mind, divide the text into five or six sections.

Lesson 1: Ten minutes before the end of the lesson, ask the class to read the selected passage. Form five or six pairs of translators and allocate each pair a different section of the text. With my students I usually give ten lines or a short paragraph to each pair. Before you start explaining things to the pairs, write some questions on the blackboard to test their understanding of the gist of the text. Tell the rest of the class to copy these down and answer them for homework.

Now tell each of the paired translators that by the next lesson they must translate their section into their L1. Tell them they are going to read out their section in English and their L1. Each member must read in both languages as follows:

1. Student A reads lines one to five in English, and then Student B translates them.

2. Student B reads lines six to ten in English, which Student A translates.

In this way, you will get the whole text translated without placing a heavy burden on the pairs.

Lesson 2: In the next lesson, arrange the furniture as if you were holding a press conference. There should be a table and some chairs at the front that face the rest of the classroom. If you cannot move the furniture, let the pairs use your desk. If you have a desk microphone, please use it, as some students have weak voices. (If the pairs lack confidence or have little experience of reading aloud, you can read the text first or model the pronunciation of difficult words.)

Bring the first pair up to the table. Remind them to read aloud clearly, and encourage the class to ask for repetition or clarification. Ask Student A to read the first half of the section in English. Tell the rest of the class to listen while reading their texts.

Now ask Student B to translate. This time tell the class, including the other pairs, to copy down what they hear. When Student B has finished, the pair change roles: B reads in English and A translates.

When the first pair has finished, give the class a minute or so to check their translations with their neighbours and then bring the next pair to the front. When a student is reading in English, you might want to assess them. I use a simple scale to grade fluency and pronunciation.

When all the pairs have finished, ask the class the comprehension questions assigned the previous day. They should manage to do this quickly. Now ask more detailed questions to highlight the language areas you want the students to notice. (You need only five or six pairs for a reading, so if you have a large class, use a different dictation every so often until everyone gets a chance to read aloud.)

By combining dictation with translation you provide a rich language learning experience. At the end of the activity, your students have practised the four skills and had their attention drawn to new areas of language. They also have the satisfaction of taking away a translation of a text which perhaps they would not have tackled alone.