At a nexus between translation studies and didactics, the teaching of sight translation within the parameters of a foreign language course has as its primary aim to improve the communication skills of foreign language learners in general and of French learners at the University of Pretoria in particular. Contrary to the communication process in their first and second languages, students who try to speak a foreign language such as French are unable to express their thoughts freely. To compensate for their insufficient language knowledge and intuition, they tend to rely on their other languages as a reference for all communication. Although this natural reflex is part of the learning process, students' attempts to transfer words, phrases, and rules directly from one language to another can be detrimental to language performance. The problem does not lie in the fact that they translate mentally before speaking, but that they tend to translate literally. This is a highly inefficient communication strategy that results in a non-idiomatic, imperfect reflection of students’ actual knowledge of language. Unlike the above-mentioned mental transcoding and the so-called pedagogical translation generally practiced in the language class, the interpretive translation approach focuses on the reexpression of the meaning of the original text. This professional translation approach should be applied to all translation, including translation in the language class. Although the purpose is not to train professional translators or interpreters, students still need to learn to translate intelligently, whether verbally or mentally, without literally reproducing their reference languages. Since students are even more tempted than professionals to rely on the source language due to their limited language knowledge, they should explicitly learn to look for alternative means of expression available to them instead of transcoding this language. Sight translation is a very economical technique to teach this approach in language classes, as students learn to translate in their own words, using all their communication skills. Students learn how best to convey the meaning of the source text with the limited vocabulary and grammar skills at their disposal. When speaking, they also focus on the meaning of their utterances and use compensatory strategies when faced with a language problem, instead of copying from their reference languages or avoiding the problem altogether by switching to another language. In the space of little more than a year, the majority of the forty-four students who participated in the empirical research learned to communicate in a natural and authentic manner without undue interference from their other languages (mainly English). Those who have mastered the approach increasingly use efficient strategies to overcome language shortcomings, thus abandoning formal transfer to the benefit of their oral expression. In addition, a small number of talented students were identified to engage in further specialised translation and interpretation training. In conclusion, sight translation teaching in the classroom proved to be a highly beneficial method to improve translation and communication skills among French foreign language learners in the multicultural environment of the University of Pretoria.
Thesis (DLitt(French))--University of Pretoria, 2008.