Dialogical translation

Chika Hayashi, School of Education, University of Nottingham, UK


Quick guide

  • Key words:Translation (Japanese and English), dialogic
  • Learner English level:Any
  • Learner maturity level:Any
  • Preparation time:10 minutes
  • Activity time:15-20 minutes
  • Materials:A4 paper


Translation is often considered an individual and unidirectional activity-Japanese to English or the other way around. This activity is designed to have students as a group involved in dialogical translation, where an original sentence is reproduced through the dialogicalnature of students’ interactive translation.


Step 1:Choose one English sentence from a textbook, newspaper, or movie transcript that is within the proficiency level of your students.

Step 2: Prepare a worksheet,writingthe sentence at the top of an A4 paper. Draw several lines under it with numbers on the left side; the number of lines depends on the number of students in each group (see Appendix 1).

Step 3: Make enough copies (one per group).


Step 1: Seat the students in separate, equal columns. Each column is one group.

Step 2: Explain the rules:

1. The student sitting at the front of each group (S1) looks at the English sentence at the top of the paper and writes the Japanese translation on line 1. Tell students that numbers on the left represent the row.

2. S1 then folds the paper to cover the English sentence so that the Japanese translation they have just written appears at the top of the paper.

3. S1 passes the paper back to S2. Tell the students that they cannot look at the folded part (English/Japanese) or ask for help.

4. S2 makes a translation of the Japanese sentence into English and writes it on the next line (line 2).

5. Like S1, after finishing the translation, S2 folds the part of the second (Japanese) sentence which S1 had written and passes it back to S3. Similarly, the translations should alternate between English and Japanese and continue until all of the students in each group have finished.

Step 3:Distribute one copy of the worksheet to the student (S1) sitting at the front of each column. 

Step 4:Start the activity and let it run until students in every column have completed the translation.

Step 5: Ask all the students sitting at the back to present their translations one by one and check their answers as a whole class. 

Step 6:Ask the students as a group to open the paper and see how their translation has been reproduced.

Step 7:If necessary, follow-up on any grammatical mistakes.


The activity can be expanded in accord with the purpose of your lessons and level of your students. Various elements which help expansion include: translating various types of sentences, parts of a story, original student-created sentences, and choosing sentences with English grammar that doesn’t occurin Japanese (see Appendix 2).


In this activity, students collaborate to work on creating a translation as their own. Each group member takes responsibility for their own translations, and all aremutually dependent on each other for their collaborative outcomes.

How the original sentence is reproduced is totally up to each group. Some students may encounter unfamiliar words and need to guess the meanings; others may try to think about a better Japanese translation to help the person behind them. Even if the meaning of the translation changes slightly in the process, it is still meaningful as students work on an alternative version. This encourages them to think about appropriate vocabulary, making use of their formal schemataof vocabulary knowledge.

This activity will enable students to realize there are many ways to make a good translation by the use of lexical items such as synonyms and phrases. It will also demonstrate that translation can be more creative, interactive, and fun.


Appendixes 1 and 2 are available below