The translation game

The other day I found myself suddenly having to cover an online session in Gaza because I’d forgotten that one of our volunteers wasn’t able to make it. I didn’t have any specific plans so I began by asking the boys what they would like to do in the session. Several of them said they’d like to hear me talking Arabic, so we came up with this simple and highly enjoyable idea for a game.

The boys took it in turns to come up to the webcam and interact with me.  I tried to say something in Arabic and they tried to translate it into English. Then we did it the other way round – with them saying something in English which I had to translate into Arabic.

There are four things I particularly liked about this activity…

  1. It seemed to be a great way to combine some inner with outer language use (Willis 1992) -(See one of my early blog posts for more details about Jane Willis’s way to categorise classroom discourse). In fact it seems that for the learners, the inner language – the sentences that got translated – were actually quite a minor part in comparison with all the outer language that happened around discussing the translations.
  2. The activity plays around with traditional status patterns in the classroom by turning the students into teachers and the teacher into a student. I think this is good for us all.
  3. It was a completely spontaneous activity. We thought of it on the spot but also the sentences that we asked each other to translate came up spontaneously; sometimes out of the things that we’d been saying to each other. Khalid’s idea to ask me to translate ‘I don’t have any grey hair’ when we had just been talking about this was brilliant, as was the way he gently teased me by saying ‘You will win fil mish mish’ 🙂
  4. Because of 1 and 2 and 3 it was a lot of fun.

Willis, J. (1992) Inner and Outer: spoken discourse in the language classroom in Coulthard, M. Advances in Spoken discourse analysis; Routledge p 162 -183

8 thoughts on “The translation game

  1. What happened is that I was waiting for the one who was supposed to do the session but I received that she was busy at that moment and wouldn’t be able to do the class.
    Nick suggested that he could do the class instead. However, there was nothing planned by Nick to help carry on with the class, and this is how the idea of the ” Translation Game ” turned up.
    Some students asked Nick to talk some Arabic, and then Nick asked some of my students to translate some sentences said by him from Arabic into English, and there we had two teams; Nick’s and ours.
    Though it was all done on the spot, students had much fun and enthusiasm.
    ” I learnt many new words in English, ” Khaled Said. ” I could speak English easily, ” Yehia added.
    I, Samir, the local teacher, found that all students were highly motivated and largely active in the ” Translation Game ” for it was much of fun and education ( edutainment ).
    Hopefully, this sort of activities will continue and spread to all students learning English all over the word.
    Samir N. Salama – Rafah – Palestine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Samir. Isn’t it strange how the best ideas often come out of the blue? If we’d planned this beforehand I don’t think it would have had the same energy somehow.


  2. Dear Samir, or anybody else who understands Arabic, Can you please share with us what bukra fil mis mis means?:]
    btw. great job, the boys have a great English and looks like all of you had a lot of fun in this lesson!


    1. Hi Alan. Bukra fil mish mish literally means ‘tomorrow in the apricots’. It’s an Arabic proverb which more or less translates as the English proverb ‘Tomorrow never comes’. I’ve been told that the proverb came about because apricots have a very short season in which they are ripe.


    2. Hi Alan,
      Many thanks for your interest..
      Actually, this is a common expression used by Arabic language speakers all over the world, and it means ” pigs might fly ” or ” in your dreams ” and it is said or used when you don’t think that something will happen.
      However, in the ” Translation Game ” it was used to pull Nick’s leg, and to have some fun. Khaled ( one of the recorded students in the video ) used that expression to tell Nick that he wouldn’t win over him in the game.



  3. Hi Alan and Nick! ‘fil mish mish’ is an idiom used to say that something will not or even impossible to happen. There’s no chance at all of something to happen.
    You are right, Nick! Apricots have a very short season and not abundant throughout the year , so if someone, for example, asks you to do something and you say fil mish mish , it means you won’t do it.

    I think ‘when pigs fly’ or ‘ when hell freezes over ‘ may have the same meaning.


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