Do Translation Students Learn Vocabulary When They Translate?

  • José-Miguel Martín-Martín
Keywords: translation students, vocabulary learning, active vocabulary, passive vocabulary, deep processing, intentional learning


The study investigates whether translation students learn new vocabulary when translating texts from a second language (L2, English) into their native language (L1, Spanish). Despite the belief of many translation teachers and students that one learns vocabulary when translating, no empirical study has ever been conducted to investigate the validity of this assumption. In this study, 38 undergraduate Translation Studies majors at a Spanish university were given eight English-language texts to translate into Spanish in which 19 target words, assumed to be unfamiliar to the students prior to the study, appeared at different frequencies. Tests were administered immediately after completion of the translation tasks, and again six weeks later, to gauge the extent to which the students had learned the target words. Results obtained from the immediate and delayed tests show significant gains in passive vocabulary learning; however, delayed test results indicate no active vocabulary gains, even for the target words appearing most frequently in the texts. Possible causes of these poor results are the low level of deep processing present when translating from an L2 to an L1, and the lack of intentional learning on the students’ part.

Author Biography

José-Miguel Martín-Martín
Universidad Pablo de Olavide